Woodbridge finds himself at the double

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The Independent Online
Todd Woodbridge yesterday underwent a rapid transformation when, after the women's final, he returned to Centre Court, the scene of his humiliating singles defeat by Pete Sampras. On Friday, Woodbridge was a little lost boy, devoured by a player he regards as one of the game's greatest-ever grass-court exponents.

But yesterday was different. Now he was master of all he surveyed because this was his domain; the men's doubles. He still looked like the clean- cut choir boy who was swallowed whole in his first ever Grand Slam singles semi- final appearance, but this time he knew that he was the man to fear.

For the past five years, Woodbridge and his fellow Australian Mark Woodforde have dominated doubles like no pair before them. Yesterday they completed a 7-6 6-4 3-6 6-3 semi-final victory over Wayne Black, of Zimbabwe, and American Jim Grabb, and remain on course for a record fifth consecutive Wimbledon title today (the record of four they naturally hold themselves).

In an era when the top singles players, particularly the men, have decided to concentrate solely on themselves, success in doubles has become regarded by some as a second-rate achievement. But the wonder of the Woodies compares favourably to any pair from any age as is shown by their trophy haul and bulging bank balances (both have won in excess of pounds 3.5m in prize money alone).

They finished last year ranked the No 1 pair for the third time in five years as they won 12 titles from 13 finals, including the Atlanta Olympics, Wimbledon, the US Open and the ATP Tour World Doubles Championship. At the start of this year, in their native Australia, Woodbridge and Woodforde combined to win their eighth Grand Slam title, surpassing an open era record jointly held by Fleming and McEnroe and Newcombe and Roche.

Woodbridge, 26, is the son of a policeman who has already taken the first tentative steps into his next intended career as a journalist, writing a column for the Australian version of Tennis Magazine. His doubles partner, five years his senior, relaxes by playing golf and speeding around go-kart circuits.

Their combined success has hampered their development as singles players although there are now also signs of changing fortunes in that field too. Woodbridge's appearance in the last four here came on the back of four singles semi-finals last year and a runner-up finish in Toronto. Those results kept him in the top 40 for the second year running and he rose as high as No 24 in March. Woodforde, who was defeated at Wimbledon by Michael Stich in a closely fought fourth-round tie, is also steadily climbing the singles rankings - into the top 20 after reaching the semi-finals in Australia last year. But it is only together that they are invincible, combining two above-average talents into one exceptional one.