Last week two top-ranked players were banished to the hinterlands of Court 8 for their firstround match at the French Open. A major scheduling snafu? Hardly. As doubles players, Jared Palmer and Don Johnson of the U.S. are accustomed to such slights. Many other players consider them lucky to have jobs.
In the wake of the ATP's disastrous deal with ISL—the Swiss media and marketing company that promised $1.2 billion to men's tennis and promptly went bust—tournaments are desperate to slash costs. Doubles players, who account for more than 20% of player expenses but sell few tickets and are of no value in television-rights negotiations, look like low-hanging fruit. According to one promoter, the nine Masters Series events plan to ask ATP approval for cutting doubles draws and prize money by as much as 50% next year. "It's just a question of looking at costs and revenues," says Jon Friend, a spokesman for the promoters.
Doubles has long been problematic for the tour. Fewer and fewer stars play doubles, giving rise to a subculture of obscure specialists who make a handsome living while making little attempt to be serious singles players. (San-don Stolle, for instance, has never won an ATP singles title but has earned nearly $4 million.) Last year the ATP replaced third sets with "match tiebreakers" (first team to 10 points wins) in most tournaments to shorten doubles matches and lure singles stars, and it began admitting players to doubles draws based in part on their singles rankings. At the Nasdaq-100 event in Key Biscayne, Fla., in March, half of the doubles players also competed in singles.
Promoters and ATP CEO Mark Miles say they're not trying to euthanize doubles. Others wonder. "If you keep cutting the money and the draws," says Todd Woodbridge, president of the ATP players' council and perhaps the greatest doubles player of all time, "who's going to play?"
Mary Pierce and French Fans
Falling in Love Again
It was as if Mephistopheles had made a deal with her: You'll win the French Open, but in return you'll lose the next two years of your career. After winning in Paris in 2000, Mary Pierce fell into professional purgatory. She hasn't won another title since, and she has been beset by a bum right shoulder, back trouble and an abdominal strain. By April 1 her ranking—once as high as No. 3—had free-fallen to No. 292. Mercifully Pierce was given a wild card to this year's French Open.
She made the most of it, winning her first four matches in straight sets—including a 6-1, 6-2 pasting of ninth-seed Sylvia Farina Elia—to become the lowest-ranked player ever to reach the quarterfinals. "It's been incredible," says Pierce, who just last month lost 6-0, 6-0 to Jennifer Capriati. "Obviously, being healthy makes a big difference."
Full health isn't the only change for Pierce. She's sporting a tr�s chic layered hairstyle and working with a new coach, Bobby Banck. She's also no longer with her onetime fianc�, New York Mets second baseman Roberto Alomar. Even her relationship with French fans is different. A French citizen by virtue of her mother's provenance, the Canadian-born Pierce has always had a love-hate relationship with Parisian tennis fans. She's been honored like a conquering heroine when she's won matches and booed off the court when she's lost. But at age 27, she's in good stead with her fickle compatriots. She won over the crowds for good when she took her title in 2000. She missed last year's French Open with injuries, so this is her triumphant return. 'Things have changed in my rapport with the public," she says. "As soon as I stepped on the courts here, I felt something special."