How do doubles teams partner up?
For some players, finding a doubles partner is easy — just ask a friend. (Or in the case of Serena and Venus Williams, a sibling.)
That’s been the case for the Aussies, Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis, known as the Special Ks. The duo are close friends who have been playing doubles together since they were boys.
Together they won the doubles boys final at Wimbledon in 2013, and since then, they’ve won a number of doubles titles together, including at this year’s Australian Open and the Atlanta Open.
Other players, however, have to go out on limb to find a partner. In some cases, that might mean taking publicly to social media or sliding into the DMs.
Before Wimbledon this year, Coco Gauff, 18-year-old American, took to Twitter to search for a partner for the mixed doubles draw.
Serena Williams at the U.S. Open
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“Who wants to play mixed at wimby,” Gauff said in tweet.
Jack Sock, the 29-year-old American, responded to Gauff’s post, and said, “We’d be a decent team.”
The two advanced to the semifinals before losing in three sets.
Others have had even more luck on social media. Before the French Open this year, Wesley Koolhof of the Netherlands sent a direct message to Ena Shibahara of Japan to ask if she’d be interested in playing mixed doubles. The two had never met before, but they went on to win the title.
Bethanie Mattek-Sands, an American professional tennis player who was formerly No. 1 in doubles, said she has played with a lot of friends throughout her career. “I feel like that makes doubles that much more fun, you’re out there with a buddy and then you just figure out what your strengths are as a team and go from there,” she said.
But overall, finding a doubles partner “can be pretty random,” Mattek-Sands said. “You can talk to a friend, send a text and just be like, ‘Hey, do you have a partner for this tournament, that tournament?”
How long a team stays together really varies, Mattek-Sands said: Some players prefer to play with the same person all year because they can compete as a team in the year-end championships. Others like to play for clay-court season or the hardcourt season. Sometimes a match up is just a one off.
Some players just look at the rankings of other players, but “most of the time it’s friends texting friends or coaches texting other coaches to see if their player already has a partner,” Mattek-Sands said.
Before this year, it’s been a while since either of the Williams sisters have played doubles. Venus Williams lasted played at the French Open last year with Gauff. And before this year, Serena Williams last played doubles a tournament in New Zealand in 2020 with Caroline Wozniacki.
To play in this year’s women’s doubles draw, the Williams sisters were awarded a wild card from the U.S. Open.
The Williams sisters won the U.S. Open doubles tournament together in 1999 and 2009. The sisters have won 14 Grand Slam titles together, most recently at Wimbledon in 2016. They last played doubles at the U.S. Open in 2014, and at any Grand Slam tournament in 2018.
“I think you’ll know if Venus and Serena are playing well by how they are serving and then putting the pressure on that second ball,” said Mattek-Sands, who has competed in doubles against the Williams sisters. “We know that they can both hit big serves, but how is their partner at the net handling that? I think if they can put a lot of pressure on the returners, they’re going to be doing really well.”