Saturday, August 14, 1999

ATP sees return of the Woodies


Dynamic duo looks to regain place in men's doubles

BY SAM MELLINGER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        For six years in men's doubles tennis, it was the Woodies and everyone else. That era is over, but with Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge advancing to the ATP Championship doubles semifinals today, the Woodies may be back.

        Their 6-3, 6-3 beating Friday of Nicolas Lapentti and Gustavo Kuertan — the No.6 singles player in the world — “looked like a killing,” Woodbridge said.

        It's the kind of tennis that had the Australians on the top of the tennis world for so long, and the kind of tennis that has some thinking the Woodies are the best doubles team of all time.

        “I don't want to sound too cocky,” Woodforde said, “but I certainly feel like there's not too many teams out there that can handle us.”

        Talk like that — and the play to back it up — reminds Woodbridge of the dominance he and Woodforde enjoyed for six years. He looks out the window of the player's lounge at the ATP Tennis Center and his voice trails.

        “For so long,” he says, “we were the mark to beat. That's what we're trying to do again.”

        The Woodies finished as the No.1 team in the world four times between 1992 and 1997. It was Aussie Rules, and the countrymen dominated doubles tennis like no team before them.

        Consider:

        • They are the only team this century to win five straight Wimbledons (1993-97)

        • They are the only team in the Open Era to win at least one Grand Slam six straight years.

        • Nine Grand Slam titles are an Open Era best.

        “There's no doubt that when you played the Woodies you had to play a great match just to have a chance,” said Luke Jensen, himself part of the No.6 doubles team in the midst of the Woodies' reign. “You could never find a weakness with them, they're solid as a rock. We had them in tough positions a few times, but they never panicked and always came up with the big shots.”

        But 1997 was the last year the Woodies dominated. After six years of unmatched success, the Australians were no longer the team to beat. They won five doubles titles, but missed out on a Grand Slam for the first time since 1991.

        It wasn't just as a team that the Woodies suffered. Woodforde finished out of the individual Top 50 ATP Tour Rankings for the first time since 1991, and Woodbridge was left out for the first time in four years.

        Woodbridge won't say it, but not enjoying the singles success they had become accustomed to while together may have driven the duo to rejoin.

        “We've gone back to working harder as a team, the last two weeks especially,” he said.

        And if they keep it up, the Woodies will retire as the best doubles team in history. They've never won the French Open title, and are now four tournament wins away from the all-time record of 57. Knock out one or both of those, and Jensen's opinion will become consensus. “If you gave me one team for one match, give me the Woodies,” he said.

       



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- ATP sees return of the Woodies
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