Jamie Murray fears for doubles: “It just feels like it’s slowly going downhill”

Jamie Murray is the first to say doubles need to change to survive. But he would love to see the Tour show more care and attention to the product instead of setting it up for failure.

Jamie Murray - ATP Cup 2020 Jamie Murray – ATP Cup 2020 © Icon SMI / Panoramic

Jamie Murray has had a lot to think about lately. Former world No 1 in doubles, now ranked 18th (Note: he’s now 16th after his title win in Doha), he started by battling a left elbow injury (both tendinitis and a torn ligament, then a third PRP injection gone wrong) that didn’t let him serve for six weeks this winter. And then after the Australian Open, he read as everybody else, Craig Tiley saying the doubles product had lost its meaning, which led others to basically say doubles’ days were numbered.

“I think we may have lost our way a little bit, we’re not meaning enough,” Tiley said. “We’ve got to get things right, and we can’t keep spinning our wheels on things, and make some decisions.” The ATP has been undertaking a review of the doubles for a long time now, but nothing has yet come out regarding the outcome.

“I feel doubleS is losing its purpose or value on the Tour”: Murray

Jamie Murray didn’t wait for all of this to be worried about the sport he’s been playing professionally since 2004 and that brought him two Grand Slam doubles titles (Australian Open and US Open 2016) and five Grand Slam mixed doubles titles (Wimbledon 2007 and 2017, US Open 2017, 2018, 2019). He knows doubles is in hot water, as he discussed with us in Doha after qualifying for the semi-finals. “I read the article and said to a lot of the doubles guys that it’s sad but I agree with him. I feel double is losing its purpose or value on the Tour.”

He’d love nothing more than to get a seat at the review table but, for now, he has no idea what’s going on. “I don’t know what the outcome will be, but I think it’s not a great path we’re going down now because it feels like some people wanna kill us, I don’t know (he laughs). It just feels like it’s slowly going downhill and eventually, people are just like ‘It sucks, we don’t need it. It just doesn’t do anything for us.’ Whereas, actually, with a bit of care and attention, you could elevate it and bring more value to the Tour. I sent a document to them with all the issues I see. And things that don’t cost money to change.”

“enhance the opportunities for SINGLES guys to finish the tournament”

What bugs him the most is the scheduling, especially in the Masters 1000 and Grand Slam events. But he’d also love to see some changes at the other levels too, pointing out that in the seven-day events, there was an easy fix: “The double tournament should start on Sunday and its final should be on Friday, because some players don’t want to stay until Sunday because they’re thinking of the next tournament.”

As for the biggest events, he thinks a complete schedule overhaul is necessary: “The Masters 1000 is a big problem because you’re playing the doubles tournament over twelve days which is just ludicrous. Five matches across twelve days is just crazy. So I think they should be starting double on day 1 of the main draw, compress it so the final is next Thursday or Friday. Singles players don’t want to wait seven days for the final if they lose in the first round in singles. That, for me, is a no-brainer: enhance the opportunities for these guys to finish the tournament. That’s also valuable for the tournament to keep them longer because the fans will come and watch. There’s a lot of little kinks that could be smoothed out with a bit of care and attention.”

“Scheduling bothers me so much at some of the events. It’s giving it no chance to thrive”

Murray is passionate about his sport so he takes all of this at heart. And any sign he sees of people in charge not caring bugs him. “Scheduling bothers me so much at some of the events. It’s giving it no chance to thrive. Right now, it feels to me that it’s kind of set up for failure. No one, from a Tour perspective, seems to be thinking of making it a more valuable proposition for us, for the Tour, for the fans, for streaming, for television. That’s what bugs me a lot. I’ve approached players about it in the past but the guys, who are maybe just thinking about their career, don’t see that maybe there will be no product in ten years. Me, I might play one, two, or three more years, I don’t know. Guys have to actively come together and say that these are the changes they would like to see made to the Tour.”

Murray would also love to see the end of the walkovers that are plaguing the doubles draws all season long when singles players entered in doubles give up for whatever reasons.

“There are more and more walkovers. It also sets a bad example for the next generation of players because instantly they don’t respect it from a young age. Not that the doubles prize money is bad but the discrepancy with singles is just huge, so how do you expect these guys to care about a double match? It’s infuriating for me when they withdraw but I completely understand them. The Tour needs to create more opportunities for these guys to finish the tournament. The most frustrating thing is that in double, people can enter the tournament with no interest in finishing it. They enter to play one match to feel the conditions, which is ridiculous.” 

“Guys have to actively come together”

Should they change the format? At least, Murray wishes matches would get shortened. It would avoid being scheduled hours away from singles semi-finals or finals, for example, giving the chance to get more people on the grounds. “The problem is that over time singles matches have gotten longer but doubles matches also. It’s now not super uncommon for a match to take two hours, and it doesn’t need to take two hours. They need to find a way to get it done in a maximum of 1h15. One hour would be perfect. You could cut a lot of the dead time. We don’t need to be sitting down at all the changeovers, for example. They can then offer a different product than singles.”

And a product that, contrary to what the trending thought is, has a fanbase. “Doubles has a lot of fans, and the Tour, maybe, underestimates that”, says Murray. “In the UK and the States, it’s really popular and always well attended. In France, they really get behind the French players and those players have always been very committed to doubles over the years and have had a lot of success. You know the fans will come out to support them, which is great. South American players also have a great following.”

“Doubles has a lot of fans, and the Tour, maybe, underestimates that”

Jamie Murray

The streaming of the matches on TennisTV showed him that people were eager to watch more doubles and to connect with the players. He saw the difference first-hand. “When the doubles started to be streamed on TennisTV, it was huge. All of a sudden, everyone around the world could watch. A lot of people wanted to watch me in the UK but previously they couldn’t see it. People’s awareness of doubles players has improved and you can feel it at tournaments.”

The thing is, it’s hard to grow a sport without promotion. And those days, all goes through social media. Yet, Jamie Murray doesn’t feel like the ATP is giving doubles its fair share of exposure there. “The promotion side, like social media, is a disaster. Last year after Miami, I counted up all the posts on the ATP Instagram and it was less than one percent of the posts for doubles. Guys, how are you promoting doubles as a sport when you literally do not post anything on your social media? These days, everyone consumes their sport on social media. So again you’re killing it, you’re not giving it a chance, and that, for me, is really sad because it doesn’t cost anyone anything to post this stuff.”

“The promotion side, like social media, is a disaster”

Murray also feels doubles has lost too much star power and so leverage, which makes it even harder to fight for its relevance. “The Bryans (Bob and Mike), when they finished, it was difficult to follow that. They also commanded a lot of respect on the Tour and from the players in general. That was a loss.”

Overall, he is just asking the Tour to take a chance on doubles again and see how it goes. He doesn’t ask for more money, more privileges, or anything like that: just a real trial in upgrading the product.

“I know the potential is there to be better than what it currently is. At least, create the best product you possibly can and see how it goes. At least, try. There’s so much the Tour could do overnight that wouldn’t take much effort. Of course, it’s never going to be on par with the singles, which is fine, but there are just so many little kinks that just need to be ironed out. I and the other players are living and breathing it every day so we know what’s working or not.” It will not be the first time, nor the last, in this sport that players are begging their Tour to listen to them more, or at all.

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