Men’s tennis has been blessed with many outstanding doubles pairings. In the early years of competitive tennis, Wimbledon saw the multiple Championship winning pairings of the Renshaws, the Baddesleys and the Dohertys (all pairings of brothers – is there something about the special rapport between brothers?)
In the immediate post –WW1 years, the Americans Bill Tilden and Vince Richards ruled the American game. In the 1920’s and early 1930’s, the French Four Musketeers’ pairings of Borotra/Lacoste and Cochet/ Brugnon excited the tennis world with their exploits. They were followed in the 1930’s by the likes of Americans Don Budge and Gene Mako and the Australian pairings of Jack Crawford and Adrian Quist.
The Second World War came as an unfortunate interruption to many careers, but in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, pairings such as Kramer and Schroeder, Gonzales and Parker, Sedgman and Bromwich, Sedgman and Macgregor, Bromwich and Quist and Mulloy and Schroeder, dominated the game.
Then along came the young, dynamic duo from Australia of Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall, whose Grand Slam winning career started in 1953 (Rosewall’s career at the top was to go on for more then 20 years subsequently).
The great pairings of the 1960’s and 1970’s were the Australians Emerson and Stolle/Laver, Newcome and Roche and Hewitt and Macmillan, Case and Masters, and the Americans Gottfried and Ramirez.
The late 1970’s and early 1980’s saw the emergence of Fleming and McEnroe and MacNamara and McNamee and later on in that decade, Flach and Seguso.
Probably the greatest doubles pairing of them all, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde appeared first in the early 1990’s and went to have a stellar doubles career together well into the new millennium. Woodbridge later teamed up effectively with Bjorkman who himself had many great achievements with other players in his doubles career. Recent years have seen the dominance of the Bryan brothers and a number of Indians like Paes, Bhupathi and Bopanna.
Who were the greatest of them all? Comparing players across eras is always difficult, but a few measures can provide reasonable comparitors.
In terms of Grand Slam men’s doubles wins, John Newcombe still holds the record of 17, followed by Emerson and Woodbridge, both on 16. Newcombe was partnered mainly by Roche, but also won Grand Slam events with Davidson, Okker and Anderson. Adrian Quist is next on 14 and a list including Roche, both Bryans and John Bromwich are on 13. In the Open era, however, Todd Woodbridge holds the record of 16.
Interestingly, only one pairing ever managed to win a one-year Grand Slam – Sedgman and Macgregor in 1951, although several have come close with three in one year. 21 players in history have won a career Grand Slam in doubles, making this not quite such an exclusive club – more recently, these have included the Bryans, the Woodies, Haarhuis and Eltingh, Paes, Nestor and Bjorkman.
Of the very best in recent times, these have been mainly doubles specialists, whereas in the past, McEnroe, Newcombe, Roche, Hoad and Rosewall all had also multiple Grand Slam singles wins under their belts.
Of pairings in the modern era, the Woodies, the Bryans, Newcombe and Roche and Fleming and McEnroe have to have been the most outstanding – with the Woodies perhaps, just shading it over the others.
Being a ‘team’ game, doubles distinguishes itself from the intensely personal nature of singles tennis. Skill is also of a different order with guile, subtlety and psychology often playing a bigger part than strength, speed and power. With its many special features, doubles has given us many memorable heroes over the years, some who managed to master the transition from singles to doubles and some who shone exclusively in this special art form.