Splitsville: Why Doubles Break Ups Can Be Smart To Do
Two new high-profile doubles teams this season were Marcelo Melo/Jean-Julien Rojer and Wesley Koolhof/Lukasz Kubot. Those four have combined to win 98 tour-level doubles titles. Koolhof lifted last year’s Nitto ATP Finals trophy alongside Nikola Metic and the other three stars have each won multiple Grand Slam crowns.
But it is just five months into the year, and both teams have decided to go their separate ways. Kubot and Melo, former longtime partners who split at the end of 2020, will rejoin forces, and the all-Dutch team of Koolhof and Rojer will compete together. Why didn’t things work out? According to Melo, sometimes new duos simply don’t click, no matter previous success.
“The main reason of course was the results. We did not get the results that we expected, even though we were losing matches in the Match Tie-break many times,” Melo said. “But at one point we need to make some changes.”
Melo and Rojer first played each other at an ATP Challenger Tour event in 2005, and they have been good friends for years. But despite the success they’ve had with other partners for years, they tallied just a 2-8 record together. They tried switching return positions, and making any adjustments they could, but the wins never came.
“It’s tough to point exactly what the problem was. Of course me and Jules, we wanted badly to work it out because we’ve been friends for a long time already. But sometimes, it does not click,” Melo admitted. “The friendship normally helps to find the problem [so you can] keep going. But we want to win so badly, it could cause anxiety a little bit more. Then you need to control this, because you really want to make it happen. We tried everything.”
It was a similar situation for Koolhof and Kubot. Koolhof learned just a few days before the start of last year’s Nitto ATP Finals that Mektic would be moving forward with fellow Croatian Mate Pavic. The Dutchman thought teaming with Kubot would work out well.
“We were not really playing badly or practising badly, but the feeling wasn’t really there and the click wasn’t there,” Koolhof admitted. “You have to be realistic at the end of the day and tell each other for the moment it’s not going to work.”
The one benefit Kubot and Melo have is that they competed in the past four Nitto ATP Finals together, which should make getting back together relatively seamless.
“Of course this is nice, because for sure we are going to try to do as best we can. We still believe a lot in each other,” Melo said. “The main reason we split was because we were playing for four years, so maybe we’ll come back with a fresh mind, which could make things better.”
Like Melo and Rojer, there was no bickering or drama for Koolhof and Kubot. But at 8-8 this year, they struggled to break through. Both teams decided to split after Barcelona, and it was almost by coincidence that they were immediately able to find a full-time partner. For Koolhof, Rojer was someone he looked up to for years at the No. 1 Dutch doubles player. They are into this week's Internazionali BNL d'Italia quarter-finals.
“Jules is a little bit from the Spanish mentality, which I like. He’s very open to everything, he’s a hard worker, a good mentality, fire and spirit. He has a little bit of a different game style from Kubi. Also like Mektic, a bit different. But everyone has their qualities,” Koolhof said. “I think I fit good next to him. I moved to the ad side on return for the moment, which is also a little bit new for me. I’m enjoying it. The team spirit is there. So far everything is going very good.”
It has been an unusual six months for Koolhof, who is onto his third partner during that span. Mektic, with whom he triumphed at The O2 in London last year, has won five titles this season with Pavic, including two ATP Masters 1000 victories.
“To be honest I would be more upset if they did not do well. But it just shows that Mektic made the right call. I know we could have also been there together, but there are no hard feelings, no regrets or anything that he chose Mate and that they are doing well,” Koolhof said. “Happy for them and happy for Mektic that he is doing well… It just proved that he made the right choice.”