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For the top players in tennis, doubles is a chance for practice and fun

Nick Kyrgios won his first-round doubles match playing with Jack Sock at the Citi Open on Monday. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post)

Nick Kyrgios said it himself after his first-round win Tuesday at the Citi Open: Despite his No. 63 ranking, he’s competing at a level that would give any top-10 player a run for his money.

And he’s right. Had a few tiebreaker points gone his way at last month’s Wimbledon final, he would have had a chance to take Novak Djokovic to a fifth set and maybe claim his first Grand Slam singles title. So when the polarizing Australian pulled out of the singles draw at last week’s Atlanta Open, citing concerns with his knee — understandable for a player gearing up for the U.S. Open later this month — why did he remain in the doubles draw, playing alongside countryman Thanasi Kokkinakis and eventually winning the championship?

Simple — why just practice when he could play competitive, lower-stakes tennis?

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“I think playing doubles is always, especially playing with a good friend, it’s always enjoyable,” Kyrgios said. “But for me, I’d rather play doubles and have that kind of competitive juices flowing rather than going out there and practicing.”

Plus, Kokkinakis had just lost his first-round match in straight sets, and Kyrgios wanted to give his friend and longtime doubles partner a pick-me-up. The duo also won the doubles title at the Australian Open in January; they are 14-2 playing together this year.

“He had a pretty bad loss last week. I think he would be the first to say that,” Kyrgios said. “To be able to bounce back and win a doubles title is never easy. Hopefully that’s helped him gain a little bit more confidence as well.”

The 27-year-old isn’t the only big star who routinely plays doubles. Kyrgios (who’s paired with Jack Sock this week), Frances Tiafoe, Denis Shapovalov, Alex de Minaur, Jessica Pegula, Emma Raducanu and Sloane Stephens are other top players in the doubles draw of the Citi Open at Rock Creek Park Tennis Center. With each of those stars in the singles bracket, why play less glamorous (and less lucrative) doubles matches, too?

Because tennis players love playing tennis. Doubles is a chance to play with less pressure, either teaming up with a friend or getting a chance to work on their game.

“I think it’s good to get extra matches in. Personally I just love playing,” said Pegula, who is ranked seventh. The Buffalo native played doubles with Coco Gauff at the French Open, where they lost in the final in three sets. Her coach, David Witt, said the last-second decision to play doubles with New Zealand’s Erin Routliffe at the Citi Open was her own but noted that extra time on the court could only help her grow.

Witt, who became Pegula’s coach in 2019 after a long stint with Venus Williams, said Pegula uses doubles to work on her positioning, serve and returns.

“It’s a process and changing little things here and there,” Witt said. “And that’s the time to work on it because then [Pegula] comes out of the doubles match like, ‘Hey, I did that well,’ or, you know, ‘Let’s go hit some more.’ ”

Kyrgios, who before arriving in Washington hadn’t played a singles match since his loss to Djokovic at Wimbledon, echoed those sentiments, saying doubles gave him a chance to get back into match-ready condition — specifically his return game.

“It definitely helped me today,” he said after Tuesday’s 6-3, 6-2 win over Marcos Giron. “. . . My serve has always been great, but especially last couple of months it’s been on another level.”

One player not taking part in doubles in D.C. is Ajla Tomljanovic, who is ranked 69th but achieved a career-high standing of 38th in February. The Croatian elected not to play doubles and increase her workload because this is a WTA 250 event — with fewer ranking points and less prize money at stake.

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Tomljanovic did play doubles at the French Open and Wimbledon, and she was scheduled to play at the Australian Open before the match was canceled. She said playing doubles gives her extra reps and a chance to practice her volleys.

“I’m one of those where I like playing [doubles] with friends and people I get along with,” she said. “It’s just good vibes. There is a bit less pressure in doubles. It’s a little more fun. I think you’ll see me smile way more in doubles than I do in singles.”

Fun, competitive tennis with friends and a chance for practice and a payday? Sign them up.

“I feel like it’s obviously more stimulating for me to go out there and compete and obviously still play for money,” Kyrgios said. “To pick up another title with Thanasi, it’s huge.”

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