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Six-time grand-slam champion gives his insider’s verdict on this year’s Tour Finals event
MEN’S DOUBLES WORLD NO9 Marach and Pavic are the team to watch
The top seeds will be Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic. Which is fitting, because it was an unexpected outing at last year’s ATP Finals – when they came in as alternates – that put them on a fantastic run of form.
They beat the Bryan brothers in their only match in London, and then won the next three events they played, including the Australian Open.
Like many of the best doubles teams, they have contrasting styles. Oliver is 38, a late bloomer. He is Austrian, plays right-handed, and stays back behind his serve. Whereas Mate is Croatian and only 25 – a classic leftie with a big swinging serve and great touch at the net.
Mike Bryan is back – and he has a new sidekick
It seems odd not to have the Bryan brothers playing together in London this year, after 10 straight appearances at the ATP Finals. But Bob needed a hip operation, so Mike has been freelancing with a few other guys.
He did not do too badly either – he and fellow American Jack Sock came away with the Wimbledon and US Open titles over the summer.
Sock used to be known mainly for his singles play but he has an incredible instinct for the doubles court. It can be very difficult to volley his forehand, especially when he has time to take a full swing, because he puts such heavy topspin on it.
Control the middle of the court and you have a chance
The classic thing with amateur doubles players is not to want to get beaten up the line, so they stand right out at the edge of the court. Whereas the area you really want to control is the middle, because that is where most of the balls go through.
So, a tip for club players: you need to be prepared to look silly. Yes, your opponent might beat you with a flashing return winner that flies up the line. But the best way to apply pressure is to cover the bread-and-butter cross-court return.
OK, so nobody remembers the balls that the receiving team fails to put back in the court. But every one that dies in the net is worth the same as that screaming winner.
Chemistry and guts make for a heady blend
It is amazing how often a doubles pairing will come through a hairy match at the start of an event – winning 12-10 in the deciding tie-break, for example – and then find wings.
I mean, a comfortable 6-3, 6-3 victory is nice and all, but it is the ones you dig out from awkward positions that stay with you. Most importantly, they help you grow together as a partnership.
Chemistry is crucial in doubles. My partner, Bruno Soares, and I have a tactical debrief after every match to keep everything running smoothly. When someone misses an easy shot, that is just sport, but if you are consistently struggling in a certain area than that will be more of a concern.
Home interest should be on the up I am proud to have flown the flag for the past few years at the O2, but it has also been rather lonely, Brit-wise, on the doubles tour.
Apart from Dom Inglot, my regular Davis Cup partner, there have not been too many guys from home to hang out with. Happily, 2018 has seen a big shift on the rankings ladder, with British guys like Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski making a push.
The new rankings show seven of us in the top 65. So I should have more company at Masters events next year and we might even see some of them pushing for a place at the O2 next year.
Top seeds: Oliver Marach (left) and Mate Pavic complement each other