Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins are set to fall just short of their season-long goal of playing in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London next week, though it has not been for want of effort. When Britain's best doubles pair finish their season at this week's Paris Masters they will have played in tournaments for all but two of the past 22 weeks of the campaign, only to falter just when a place in the year-ending finale at the O2 Arena seemed within their grasp.
The year's eight most successful doubles teams qualify for London, along with the eight top singles players. Fleming and Hutchins are ninth in the doubles list, which is based on ranking points won during 2012. The Britons were still in contention last week, but a first-round defeat in Valencia means they cannot now beat the points totals of the two pairs they need to overhaul.
Jonny Marray and Freddie Nielsen will be in the eight-team field at the O2 by dint of their Wimbledon triumph, though they have a lower points total than Fleming and Hutchins.
"Because of all the tournaments we've played recently we probably haven't been as fresh over the last couple of weeks as we were earlier in the summer," Fleming admitted. "We might learn from that experience when we plan our schedule for next year, but we wanted to give it everything to try and make the field for London."
While Andy Murray is the only British man ranked in the world's top 200 in singles, seven of his fellow countrymen are in the world's top 75 in doubles. Only the United States can match that total.
Fleming and Hutchins are in their second full season together and have had an excellent year. They have steadily built their world rankings to the level where they are regulars at the Masters Series competitions, which are the main events beneath the Grand Slam tournaments. While 27-year-old Hutchins, who is from Wimbledon, made his Masters Series debut three years ago, Fleming, a 28-year-old Scot, made his first appearance in Paris last November.
The Britons would almost certainly have qualified for the O2 but for a stress fracture suffered by Fleming which forced them to miss the clay-court season. They took time to rediscover their form – a first-round loss at Wimbledon was particularly damaging in terms of ranking points – but have subsequently reached two finals and had their best run yet at a Masters Series tournament, making the semi-finals in Shanghai earlier this month.
They made the final in Kuala Lumpur and the semi-finals in Beijing in their two previous tournaments and have recorded four wins since the US Open over pairs who will be playing in London.
"We stalled a little bit earlier in the year, but in Asia I feel we really picked it up again," Hutchins said. "We've been playing together for two years now and we're still communicating very well. We're still discussing in depth about where we can improve. I think that helps a lot. We're very open with each other.
"We can both take criticism. I think a lot of tennis players can't do that. In the past I've played with different partners and I haven't liked them telling me what to do and they certainly haven't liked me telling them what to do."
Fleming added: "Ultimately, that's why most partnerships end – because one guy thinks they're better than the other and they can't take criticism of each other."
Many top doubles players change partners on a regular basis, but the Britons, who have become their country's established Davis Cup pair, believe they can benefit from sticking together. Hutchins said: "When we teamed up I said to Colin: 'I'd love it if we could play together for the next seven years.' That would be my dream scenario."
Fleming said: "Each year it's a progression. This was our first year being seeded at all the Grand Slams that we played. That makes a difference. We now need to push on and get seeded in the Masters Series events, which gets you a bye. If we can keep our ranking just ticking over it will help us get closer to our ultimate goal, which is to get to the top and play in these tournaments all the time."
DOUBLE TOPS: GB MALE DOUBLES RANKINGS
21 Jonny Marray
27 Colin Fleming
28 Ross Hutchins
44 Dominic Inglot
54 Ken Skupski
58 Jamie Delgado
71 Jamie Murray