The singular joy of a doubles life

Bud Collins explains how riches await the unsung masters of a neglected art

DOUBLES, that clandestine, back-court pastime at the Big W, seems banned from polite conversation. What dirty little secret is there about doubles that keeps the more entertaining side of tennis out of sight and off the sporting pages?

It didn't used to be like this in a time when it was taken for granted that great players (Laver, Newcombe, Nastase, Smith to cite a few) actually new how to cohabit with three people - some of them even of the other sex - and enjoy themselves immensely, transmitting that joy to us weekend hackers who shamelessly indulge ourselves in same.

Rod Laver, arguably the greatest of champions to be seen on the greensward, numbers among his seven Wimbledon titles two in the mixed, alongside Darleen Hard in 1959-60.

But ask Andre Agassi about mixed doubles and he might respond that it's none of our business what tactics and formations he and Brooke Shields employ.

Doubles of any sort is nowhere these days. Not done, old boy. If you played doubles as well as singles, when would you have time to count your money? Can you imagine Andre sharing his side of the turf with anyone other than possibly Michael Jackson, and then only in a pro- celebrity charade?

No male player has scored a Wimbledon double since 1970 when John Newcombe won both singles and doubles titles. His partner, Tony Roche, with whom Newc won five titles, was also useful in singles, a finalist in 1968, and semi-finalist in 1969 and 1975.

Newcombe and Roche expected to give the customers twice as much of themselves for the price of admission - and those were the days of more tennis per hour with no courtside chairs on which to sag for 90-second intermissions.

But can you even name the 1994 men's doubles champions? I thought not. Did somebody say: "The Woodies"? Was there a vote for the delightfully barmy brothers Jensen? You'd be correct on the first count. The Woodies, Mark Woodforde from Adelaide and Todd Woodbridge from Sydney, victors the past two years, have attracted a following of their own in the mould of the Aussie old boys such as Jack Bromwich-Adrian Quist, Lew Hoad-Ken Rosewall, Roy Emerson-Neale Fraser, Peter McNamara-Paul McNamee.

Aussies have won 26 men's titles since 1948, probably because doubles is second nature to them - Australian babies always reside two-to-a-bassinet in maternity wards, to get the feeling. The red-headed Woodforde and the choirboy-faced Woodbridge are seeking to become the first three-straight winners since Newcombe and Roche's 1968- 69-70 reign. They line up the same way; the lefties Roche and Woodforde in the advantage court, the righties Newcombe and Woodbridge playing the deuce. And they do have lives of their own as substantial singles players, Mark ranking No 31, Todd No 37.

But a subculture of Foreign Legion types, anonymous doubles-only characters has developed in recent years, a reaction to the main men deserting that side of the game, thus widening employment opportunities for the low-ranked.

Take Patrick Galbraith, a crafty 28-year-old American left-hander often seen in the company of the Canadian Grant Connell. Galbraith could wander around Wimbledon incognito, yet he earned $400,000 last year as a courtmate. Another specialist, Cyril Suk, half the size of his celebrity sister, Helena Sukova, made $210,000 last year with a number of strange court fellows.

My favourite, Trevor Kronemann, a Minnesota mammoth, looks like a fugitive from World Cup Rugby at 6ft 4in and 17st, but he's a $200,000-a-year man, though. Two other masked men, the Floridian Greg van Emburg and the pony- tailed Italian Christian Brandi pick up about $100,000 a year in the furtive enterprise. "It's a living," says Van Emburgh. "Beats working for a living," says Kronemann.

However, the exuberant, rugged Jensens, the brothers Luke and Murphy, out of a backwater called Ludington, Michigan, have parlayed one decent title - the French of 1993 - and a rollickingly zany act on court that could have been a music-hall hit into million-dollar incomes, mostly on endorsements. They are amusing, but they didn't stick around long. If the Jensens could only play as well as they act, Agassi might have a box-office rival.

But they keep the rallies alive for a while. That's why doubles is more fun to watch than singles. But at the Big W, and everywhere else along the men's tour, playing together is a hush-hush topic like incest or lewd behaviour.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future