Men’s Doubles Season Starts and the Case of Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic

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This is a guest post by Peter Wetz.

In recent years, the steady decline of the holders of 116 doubles titles–Bob and Mike Bryan–has resulted in more variety at the very top of the game. The 16-time Grand Slam champions won their last major at the US Open 2014. Since then, eight different teams have won their first title at the highest level of the sport.

Even though none of these debut winners emerged out of nowhere, the doubles team consisting of Oliver Marach and Mate Pavic, which formed in the middle of last season, has enjoyed an exceptional run at this year’s start of the season. This prompted me to take a closer look at the performance of doubles teams per season.

The following table shows each team’s won-loss record through the French Open for each season since 2000 . It’s sorted by number of wins up to that point, and the last column displays the won-loss record for the complete season. Only teams that have won more than 30 matches until the French Open are listed.

Year    Team        W-L (%) Start    W-L (%) Full
2013    Bryan/Bryan    40-4  (91%)    71-11 (87%)
2002    Knowles/Nestor    38-7  (84%)    66-14 (82%)
2007    Bryan/Bryan    37-5  (88%)    73-10 (88%)
2008    Bryan/Bryan    37-9  (80%)    63-17 (79%)
2009    Bryan/Bryan    37-9  (80%)    68-18 (79%)
2014    Bryan/Bryan    36-6  (86%)    64-12 (84%)
<strong>2018    Marach/Pavic    36-7  (84%)    tbd</strong>
2010    Nestor/Zimonjic    35-7  (83%)    57-19 (75%)
2012    Mirnyi/Nestor    34-9  (79%)    43-18 (70%)
2003    Knowles/Nestor    34-9  (79%)    57-16 (78%)
2006    Bryan/Bryan    33-9  (79%)    65-15 (81%)
2004    Bryan/Bryan    32-8  (80%)    57-17 (77%)
2010    Bryan/Bryan    31-7  (82%)    67-13 (84%)
2011    Bryan/Bryan    31-7  (82%)    59-16 (79%)
2009    Nestor/Zimonjic    31-8  (79%)    57-17 (77%)
2014    Nestor/Zimonjic    31-8  (79%)    42-18 (70%)
2003    Bryan/Bryan    31-12 (72%)    54-20 (73%)

As we can see, Marach/Pavic come in seventh with a very healthy 36-7 won-loss record this year. Their first loss came in the Rotterdam final, their fourth tournament after collecting titles in Doha, Auckland, and at the Australian Open–a streak of 17 consecutive match wins. If we ignore the all-time greats, there hasn’t been a better start to a men’s doubles season in the past 16 years.

The fact that the Bryan twins show up ten out of seventeen times in the table underlines just how dominant they were. And even though they did not win a Grand Slam in the last three years, they still had the best season starts in 2015 and 2016 (just barely missing the table, because they did not reach 30 match wins).

The last column gives a clue of what to expect from Marach and Pavic for the rest of the year. Most of the time, the teams at the very top only slightly decline. Notably, in 2007 the Bryan brothers maintained a win percentage of 88%, which led to the best doubles season in the dataset, measured by won-loss record.

After losing their seventh match this season at the 2018 French Open final to Herbert/Mahut and therefore missing the chance to win the first two majors of the season–a feat achieved in the open era only by the Bryans in 2013–it will be interesting to see if they will be able to sustain their level over a full season.

Peter Wetz is a computer scientist interested in racket sports and data analytics based in Vienna, Austria.