Even in doubles, tennis is an individual sport. In doubles, partners regularly go their own way, sometimes get back together, occasionally wish they hadn't broken up at all. Something like a romance novel but based on an entirely different relationship.
Winning is a major determinant in a doubles union. Each player's ranking is a factor in his or her attractiveness. A potential partner's availability (based on health, preferred schedule) is major. Getting along with each other is helpful. And communication.
Women's U.S. Open doubles finalist Flavia Pennetta of Italy speaks to partner Martina Hingis, who is Swiss, "more in Spanish than Italian because her boyfriend is Spanish. My boyfriend? He's Spanish also."
One veteran tennis observer described a doubles player's ongoing search for a partner as a form of professional flirting. Check out potential mates, ask if they can get together, see how things go.
"It's like this: It changes," said Brazilian Bruno Soares, this year's U.S. Open mixed doubles champion with India's Sania Mirza and the No. 3-ranked men's doubles player who lately has partnered with Austrian Alexander Peya. "You start trying it with somebody and you think it's going to be good but it just doesn't work. It's normal to change."
Scott Lipsky, a 33-year-old, Merrick-raised, California-based doubles specialist, arranged to play with Rajeev Ram of Indianapolis only a month before the U.S. Open, and they wound up winning runner-up prize money.
Lipsky had split with Mexico's Santiago Gonzalez, his regular partner for two years, for reasons neither he nor Gonzalez addressed specifically. "We decided not to play together," both said.
Their on-court success had faded a bit recently, and that often is cause for change. "We won, like, seven titles," Gonzalez said, "but we were on and off."
Lipsky had paired with Ram in the past and, Ram said, "We didn't split up for any other reason than scheduling conflicts. It was not because we didn't get along or weren't doing well. The whole thing was whether we could match a schedule that would work for both of us, which is definitely getting closer for me now.
"So the reason we've had different partners, especially for me, is because I wanted to concentrate more on singles, and it's hard to play with a doubles guy when you're trying to play singles."
Because entrance into tournaments is based on rankings -- a No. 5 player paired with a No. 10, for instance, would receive a No. 15 for tournament consideration -- a struggling player often is looking for a partner who can boost his or her chances. Ram's second choice as teammate in the Open, Lipsky said, had a lower ranking than Lipsky.
This year's Open runners-up in mixed were Gonzalez and Californian Abigail Spears, and that arrangement came about because Spears is a friend (and former mixed doubles partner) of Lipsky's. "I think I practiced against Scott and Santiago," Spears said. They agreed to team up a year ago and finished second in the 2013 U.S. Open.
So this makes two tournaments together and two runner-up paydays -- a humble $70,000 split between them compared to the money won by singles players. Spears expects they will be partners again.
"You have to figure which tournaments you want to play, and you have to do it like one month before the tournament starts," Spears said. "You have to email everybody . I've been playing with Raquel for five years.
"You don't want to change the thing if it's good," she said. "Santiago and I tried to play [mixed] at the Australian Open this year, but we didn't get in so I found me another partner. And then I accidentally said 'yes' to somebody else before Santiago asked me for Wimbledon and French. And I shouldn't have."
Lipsky estimated that he has had as many as 50 partners in men's doubles, while in mixed "there really aren't any teams" because mixed is played only at the Grand Slams and the Olympics, since the men's and women's tours are run separately.
No surprise, then, that mixed champions Soares and Mirza have been together only for the two weeks of the tournament.
"I guess now," Soares said, "she will accept my offer to play Australia."
Mirza shot back, "We have to win. My standards are very high." Pause. "I'm joking."
Maybe. Gonzalez guessed that in 10 years he has had at least 20 partners in men's doubles. Bottom line, the most predictable way to have a stable doubles team is to play with a twin brother -- as Bob and Mike Bryan, 15 times major-tournament champions -- do. And, before them, Tim and Tom Gullikson in the 1970s and '80s. Or with a sister, as Serena and Venus Williams have done in winning 13 Slam events together.