The BNP Paribas Open is one of the few events on the calendar that sees the biggest names in singles take to the doubles court, and this year has been no exception. Of the 32 teams in the draw, 13 featured at least one top-20 singles player.
As the packed outer courts through the first two rounds have shown, the presence of singles players in the doubles draw attracts huge crowds and offers important exposure for the game of doubles, a win-win for players looking for extra tuning in their games and enthusiastic fans.
While the singles players may up the competition level, the seeded doubles teams have still fared well through the early rounds, with four of eight seeded teams still in the draw.
The Bryan brothers, closing in on their 100th career doubles title, looked untroubled in their first-round encounter with Scott Lipsky and Florian Mayer. They will face off against Julien Benneteau and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the second round later today.
No team brought as many fans to the outer courts as the Roger Federer-Stanislas Wawrinka duo, who opened their doubles campaign on Friday to a packed house on the new Stadium 2.
The Swiss pair both looked solid in their opening match and were in control against Rohan Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi, but the No. 6 seeds fought back to force a deciding third-set super tiebreaker.
With the help of a controversial call—Federer hit a return winner off a serve that appeared to be out—the Swiss gold-medalist pair advanced to the second round, where they had another tight win over Ernests Gulbis and Milos Raonic.
The Swiss duo, who own a collective 18 Grand Slam titles and have produced almost as many selfies this week, will next play a very tough team in Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek, who spoiled the Bryan brothers’ attempt to win a calendar Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last fall.
On the other side of the draw, Juan Monaco and the always entertaining Gael Monfils faced off in the first round against Andy Murray and Jonathan Marray, a 2012 Wimbledon doubles champion.
The Brits took the first set 6-4 before Monfils and Monaco came back to level the match, sending the contest into a super tiebreaker that went down to the wire. Murray and Marray led 6-3, but needed two match points to close out their opponents 6-4, 4-6, 11-9.
Neither John Isner nor Sam Querrey have had a particularly memorable year (and Querrey is already out of the singles draw at this event), but the American duo has proved to be an effective doubles team, fighting through two tough matches to earn a quarterfinal berth. Against a tricky French team of Jeremy Chardy and Gilles Simon, the Americans dispatched their opponents 7-5, 6-2.
They went on to defeat Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt, the Australian Open champions, 6-3, 7-6(6) to set up a clash with No. 3 seeds Ivan Dodig and Marcelo Melo, runners-up at last year’s Wimbledon.
The biggest upset so far has come from Nicolas Mahut and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who defeated Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in the second round.
Mahut and Tsonga, now both out of the singles draw, advanced to the second round following a win over Robin Haase and Kevin Anderson, the latter who has been having the season of his career so far in 2014.
In an airtight second-round encounter, the French pair snuck past Nestor and Zimonjic 6-7(7), 7-6(5), 11-9. Though seeded seventh, Nestor and Zimonjic are one of the most formidable duos on tour and have won 25 titles, including three Grand Slams.
The star-studded doubles draw is one of the unique features of the Indian Wells event. The addition of top singles players adds excitement to an otherwise poorly attended event, begging the question of how the ATP can encourage more doubles participation from its best singles players.
The debate over whether men should play best-of-three at the majors has been discussed for several years now. Given the rigor of a two-week, best-of-five Grand Slam, combined with the yearly calendar as a whole, it’s understandable why few of the top men play doubles so infrequently, and Beyond The Baseline’s Courtney Nguyen speculates the two are linked.
If the Grand Slams moved to a best-of-three format for the men, top singles players would surely litter the doubles draw and create more publicity for the sport and entertainment for fans. Good trade-off?