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One for the Team

Posted on April 29, 2019

Is doubles finally getting its due in professional tennis? An arguable majority of recreational players enjoy the game in doubles form, but professional singles players are the ones who seem to enjoy the attention, the glory, and yes, the big prize money. But take a look at the draws on the tour now and you’ll find the names of several top-ranked singles players — Shapovolov, Fognini, Tsitsipas, Thiem, Djokovic — listed among the seasoned doubles veterans. You’ll also see an injection of young, new players with a passion for doubles who excel while playing alongside a partner. Enter: Aviators rookie doubles specialist Jonny O’Mara.

At just 24, O’Mara and his partner, Luke Bambridge (also 24), are the second-youngest players in the current top 50 doubles rankings. Only Chile’s Nicolas Jarry is younger, at 23. And, while many young players are playing both doubles andsingles, O’Mara has made the choice early in his tennis career to pursue doubles exclusively.

“Obviously, you know every tennis player that picks up a racquet, 95 percent of them start off and they want to be singles players,” acknowledges O’Mara. “You’ve got to understand, I was the exact same — I wanted to be a singles player — but it’s just different personalities. I’m much more of a team personality, I enjoy bouncing off someone else, having a bit of fun like that.”

O’Mara says the team element has always been what he enjoys most about playing. “I was part of the Great Britain Davis Cup team last year when we played Uzbekistan, and through my career I’ve done junior stuff for Britain, and recently there are league teams in Britain I’ve always made sure I was part of, because being part of a team for me is a lot more fun that doing it individually,” he explains. “I’ve actually done a lot of team stuff because it’s exciting, I like supporting teammates, and you kind of feel like you’re playing for someone other than yourself. It’s a lot of fun.”

“It’s a little bit more lonely on the singles tour for sure and that’s probably why I moved into doubles, just because it’s nice to have someone to share the emotions with,” he continues. “If you can get a win on the board, it’s a point for the team and not just for you, so I’ve always played better in that environment and always looked to be a part of it.”

Around this time last year, O’Mara had already begun his ascent up the doubles rankings to reach a career-high World No. 132, but he probably wasn’t expecting what 2018 still had in store for him. In June, O’Mara and partner Bambridge (who’ll play for Aviators SoCal rivals the Orange County Breakers this year), entered the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne as wild cards and left as champions, defeating the No. 1 seeded pair of Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah along the way and besting British brothers Ken and Neal Skupski in the final. In October, the pair once again emerged victorious at the Stockholm Open. By the end of the year, O’Mara had slashed his ranking nearly in half, closing out 2018 at World No. 62.

His successful streak didn’t end when the year was over. Instead, O’Mara and Bambridge have continued to work their way up the rankings, appearing in two ATP tour-level finals in 2019 so far. The wins pushed O’Mara into the top 50, including posting a career-high No. 48 in March.

If there’s one thing tennis players know, it’s that winning breeds confidence. That certainly looks to be the case for O’Mara. “We took a wild card [in Eastbourne] and all of a sudden, we had four unbelievable wins, but when we won the Stockholm ATP it was a bit more like, ‘OK this level’s not that scary and we can compete with these guys pretty comfortably.’ For me, that was a pretty big moment just to know that we were in all the slams the next year, and we could actually go to the slams with a pretty good chance of trying to win one,” he says. “From there, we’ve just been flying. So, everything is new, every experience is new, which is really enjoyable right now.”

It’s no wonder that O’Mara, who hails from Arbroath, Scotland, about 70 miles northeast of Edinburgh, is quick to name as his tennis “idol.” “It’s gotta be Andy Murray. He is from a small town which is maybe an hour away from the small town that I grew up in. It’s a shame he’s not playing as much now, because now that I’m in tournaments that he was playing in, it would have been amazing just to see him so often,” he laments.

His respect for Murray could lead one to wonder if O’Mara had any hopes of playing for the Philadelphia Freedoms, who announced this year that they’d be adding Andy’s mom, Judy Murray, to their coaching staff, but he’s quick to dismiss the idea. “I worked with her when I was about 8 to 16. She used to coach me, so I know her really well, but I’ve heard about San Diego and it was 100% the one place that I was really pumped to go,” says O’Mara. That the Aviators’ home turf is Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, with its two championship golf courses, definitely sweetened the pot for the avid golf fan. “I’m looking forward to playing golf [at La Costa]. I love the vibe of the place. It’s pretty cool! Find a few cool coffee places, chill out on the beach — sounds pretty good to me!”

His focus when he’s here won’t be on R&R, though — it will be tennis. What can fans expect from O’Mara when he steps up for the Aviators this summer? “I think I bring a lot of energy,” he says, candidly. “If I do say so myself, I think I bring a lot of personality, a lot of fun, and just to be honest, I always started playing tennis to be a bit of an entertainer, to perform. It’s obviously the competitive side that’s a huge factor, but for me, it’s the main reason I went into doubles — to play the bigger events, to play in front of a crowd, just to play some good shots. It’s difficult to play a match when there’s no one watching. It doesn’t really get me going, but as soon as there’s a big crowd, I get pretty energetic.”