Dissecting doubles: Who’ll thrive in tandem at AO 2021?

  • Matt Trollope

The recent release of the doubles entry lists for Australian Open 2021 has generated plenty of excitement considering the new partnerships and singles stars set to take on the established teams. 

READ MORE: Doubles draws set to sizzle at AO 2021

Todd Woodbridge, who won three of his 16 Grand Slam men’s doubles titles at the Australian Open, shared some of his thoughts on what might unfold in February.

Ausopen.com: How do you think the defending champions, Babos/Mladenovic and Ram/Salisbury, will perform?

Todd Woodbridge: "Babos and Mladenovic are the favourites in the women's draw, not just because of the success they've had, but because they're the best combo. They understand each other's game styles and temperaments; they can deal with pressure. Their expectation is that they're also going to win, and they believe that. There's an air of confidence that you take when you start the tournament like that. They win a lot of matches now because of that aura they have from their success of the past few years."

"Ram and Salisbury are good. Ram plays doubles the way we used to play doubles. Salisbury has brought a nice dynamic to the combination, but it's cemented with Ram's style, which is a bit of a throwback. For me that just shows the importance of the fundamentals of good doubles: solid volleys, understanding angles, understanding where to move and attack. That for me is why they're doing well.”

What are some of the ‘danger pairs’ on the list that stand out for you?

"It has got to be Denis Shapovalov and Vasek Pospisil. Doubles is not necessarily their focus, but look at the way they match up; Pospisil's a Wimbledon champion with a pretty good natural instinct for how to be aggressive on the tennis court, so he's quite a natural doubles player. And when you combine that with the natural ball striking and flair that Shapovalov brings, who’s a lefty, they would be a nightmare team to get in your draw. Certainly they have the confidence and ability to be able to win a Slam. They may not be seeded, so that for me is the team to watch.

"On the women’s side it’s Ash Barty and Jennifer Brady. It’s a new partnership, but in a doubles combination it’s about strengths covering weaknesses. In Brady's case the strength is big hitting and a dominant game from the back, plus the serve. And then you've got Barty, who has the best skills of any female on tour right now. She can really change the play up with great feel, finesse and spin. And that's such a good combination. The question is: are they able to do it so early within their partnership?

"Barty has the best skills of any female on tour right now. She's the Martina Hingis of this era, because she controls the court."
Todd Woodbridge on Ash Barty

Barty has had success with almost everybody she pairs up with. What makes her so good?

"She's the Martina Hingis of this era, because she controls the court. Ash can hit dippers to the incoming player at net. She can wait, then flick the lob over them. She can intercept. She's got better volleys than anybody out there now. If you could pick a partner, everyone should be picking to play with her. I thought she would be the No.1 doubles player in the world well before she would be the singles No.1. I thought that would be the stepping stone to her singles success. But she got there (in singles) earlier.”

Australian players have enjoyed plenty of success in AO doubles in recent years. Could we see more of the same in 2021?

“A team that started to play last year and get their claws into it were John Peers and his New Zealand partner Michael Venus. I would expect them now, with 12 months of playing with each other and working each others' games out, developing that understanding and gelling as required in a doubles combination, to have a pretty good season. And it'll start well for them at the AO.” 

An impressive number of top singles players will play doubles at AO 2021, including eight of the ATP top 30. What do you make of this trend?

"I think it's the smartest move that they've made. What has tended to happen over the past decade is that the players have become fairly one-dimensional in their game style. Now to be able to make that next step forward, we're seeing the younger guys realise they have to work more on their returns, their transition into the net, they have to volley far better, and they've got to be sharper at net to make difficult volleys. The more time you spend out there, the more natural and instinctive you become in your movement. And that transports itself over to the singles court. I like that this trend has changed, because if I was a coach out there on tour, that's what I'd be getting my player to do.”