Will Extra Work in Doubles Competition Hurt Tennis' Top Superstars?

Jeremy Eckstein@https://twitter.com/#!/JeremyEckstein1Featured ColumnistAugust 12, 2015

MONTREAL, ON - AUGUST 10:  Rafael Nadal of Spain and teammate Fernando Verdasco of Spain dry off during day one of the Rogers Cup at Uniprix Stadium in his doubles match against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Jack Sock of the USA on August 10, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

While the ATP singles competition gets started for Canada’s Rogers Cup, superstars Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are doubling down, literally. All three have already won doubles competitions with their partners, and they will be looking to balance this with their expectations to win the more prestigious singles competition.

How surprising is this for each of the three stars, and will it wear them down as August grinds into September’s last major, the U.S. Open?


Nadal Most Likely to Double

Rafael Nadal has had the most success when measuring his doubles career with that of Roger Federer, Djokovic and Murray. The Spanish superstar is a solid 114-66 with nine titles, and this year he and his partners have won 10 of 14 doubles matches.

Nadal is enabled by his strong Spanish contemporaries, and he frequently teams with any of them. At Canada, he is currently partnered with fellow veteran Fernando Verdasco. They won their first match against a team of power players in Tomas Berdych and Jack Sock.

Nadal has often used doubles after significant layoffs to help his timing. He’s an underrated player at net and when playing well, can confidently finish important points behind big groundstrokes.

Furthermore, Nadal often looks more relaxed playing doubles, and there is a sense of camaraderie and fun that may be different than the total expectations of singles. 

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The downside is if singles and doubles both become gruelling. Say that Nadal advances to the semifinals in both events. Would he push aside his doubles to conserve energy for singles? Ideally, a pair of matches might be the best formula for tuning up at Canada but then abstaining from doubles as the singles grind takes its toll.

The key is that Nadal wants plenty of spring and energy in his legs, and he will need more strength on his serving, which has certainly been weaker than it was in 2013. Will the extra doubles serving help or hurt his game?


Djokovic and Murray Less Doubles Success

Djokovic and Murray both have losing career records in doubles. They have played fewer doubles matches, so it’s obviously been less of a priority. Djokovic’s career is 37-52 with one title, and he is 4-3 in 2015. Murray is 59-63 with two titles, and he is 5-4 this year. His biggest doubles win was clearly Great Britain's Davis Cup win with brother Jamie against France, which ironically enough means that the doubles he is playing now could add fatigue for another Davis Cup round in mid-September.

Djokovic and Murray are more likely to team with partners from other countries, so it might be harder to meet up with and synchronize schedules with some of their close friends.

In the last few days, Djokovic has been able to team up with fellow Serbian Janko Tipsarevic who has been slow to regain his health and form. They won their first match.

Murray has teamed up with Indian Leander Paes who is a very experienced and accomplished doubles player. Oddly enough, Murray and Paes had to get through Andy's brother Jamie with their opening win at Canada.

The concern for Djokovic is that he is expected to compete for and win Masters 1000 titles at Canada and Cincinnati and then have two weeks of energy for the U.S. Open. He could presumably play more singles matches than anyone else on tour, so will the extra doubles work take a toll on winning his second U.S. Open title?

Murray played one match at Washington D.C., and maybe it was good that was all. Like Djokovic, he could be playing a lot of matches, and the week after the U.S. Open, he is scheduled for an important Davis Cup semifinal series against deeper Australia. Can he play through all of this without collapsing from exhaustion?


Doubles in Their Futures?

As Nadal, Djokovic and Murray age, they may find they must pace themselves with even less frequency in doubles.

Aaron Favila/Associated Press

For instance, Roger Federer, who is resting from all Rogers Cup action this week, has only played two doubles matches in 2015, even though his career numbers (129-88 with eight titles) are very respectable considering his very dominant singles career.

It is surprising to see three of these superstars in action at the same event, something that may not happen very often again, if at all. Their fans might hope they get one or two more doubles matches in but then perhaps feel relieved that this alleged tune-up has passed away so that the grinding of singles play can bring in more important championships.

Somewhere out there, a tennis doubles fan is still screaming for respect.