December 27, 2020

The 2020 Tennis Spin Awards: Doubles Teams of the Year

I often find it difficult to pick the best doubles team of the year, and this year it was even harder. The abbreviated season and smaller entry fields only added to the usual complications of partner switches and celebrity pairings that can so often shake things up.

But in a year we said goodbye to one legendary team, it's even more imperative that we salute the partnerships that really worked under the strangest of circumstances.

So let's get to them!

The Women

The Winner: Su-Wei Hsieh and Barbora Strycova

This veteran duo has been paired up since 2018 and have won nine titles together, including Wimbledon last year. They didn't get to bring home a Grand Slam title this year, but they only lost two matches together all season, one of which was the Australian Open final.

Both decent singles players in their own right -- Su-Wei Hsieh was my most improved player of 2012 and Barbora Strycova was the surprise semifinalist at the All England Club in 2019 -- together, they won fourteen straight matches on either side of the lockdown, picking up titles in both Dubai and Doha on one side and in Rome on the other. They also kicked off the year winning in Brisbane, by the way.

While Strycova did play the field a bit this season -- she teamed up with Simona Halep in Prague and Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Ostrava -- she found her biggest successes with Hsieh. And while they didn't get the opportunity to play for a year end championship -- they were runners-up last year -- something tells me it might have been hard to beat them if they had.

Runner-Up: Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic

In a way, these two went loss-less at the Majors this year, winning Australia and Roland Garros, and controversially getting withdrawn from the U.S. Open. And over the years they've racked up eleven titles together -- five more finals. It's a shame we didn't get to see more of them, but circumstances of this year made a lot of things that were otherwise commonplace much harder. And I expect if they could rebound from the blow they suffered in New York by winning in Paris, we have a lot more to see from them down the road.

The Men

The Winner: Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury

Okay, I admit it -- this one is based entirely on my heart and only a little bit on the brain. Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury honestly had a better 2019 season than they did this year, when they won two titles and made another three finals. By comparison, the one trophy they claimed together in 2020 is paltry -- but it was a big one.

The eleventh seeds in Melbourne at the start of the year, they scored a huge third round win over Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos -- a team that would go on to win three titles this year -- and then largely sailed to the championship, losing just one set in their run. It was the first Grand Slam for either of them, and while they couldn't repeat at the other Majors, they did manage runs to the semis and quarters in New York and Paris, respectively.

At their second year-end finals they managed to make the semis, coming OHSOCLOSE to victory before a stunning come-from-behind win by Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

So why'd I pick this team over others that may have laid claim to more trophies this year -- well, I have a little soft spot for Ram. And it's always nice to see an American male do well these days. And, who knows, maybe they'll just do more to prove they earned award next year.

Runner-Up: Bruno Soares and Mate Pavic

This power couple won the U.S. Open this year and made it to the finals at Roland Garros; they also came out on top in the team race despite the fact that Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal were technically the #1 and #2 doubles players in the world -- that dang point protection program again! Those are some pretty good results, under the circumstances, and I was actually surprised to learn how little they played together -- they just teamed up in 2019 and won that season's year end championships. They're parting ways again -- Bruno Soares will re-pair with his long-time partner Jamie Murray in the new year while Mate Pavic will try his luck with Nikola Koolhof -- but it was sure nice to see them break some ground together.

Honorable Mention: Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic

Because I cheated a little on the winner of this category, it's only fair I award a consolation prize here, and it goes to the team that lifted the trophy at the Nitto Finals. Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic were not names I knew before, and they only partnered up this season. But they also made the semis at the French Open and the final in New York. And while it seems a Grand Slam could be in their near future, it might not be with each other -- Koolhof, as mentioned, will reportedly hitch his wagon to Mate Pavic in 2021, while Mektic is teaming with veteran Lukasz Kubot, both formidable allies themselves. But whoever they team up with, I'll be excited to watch what they bring to the courts next.

Well that just about covers this year's Tennis Spin Awards, but there's still one more to go! Be sure to come back for the big one -- the 2020 Players of the Year!

And to see all of the winners this year and in years past, click here.

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