The term Sunshine Double is one of the most evocative in tennis. It refers to victory in the same year in both Indian Wells and Miami, the pair of springtime American hardcourt events for both men and women that in the opinion of many in tennis are the biggest tournaments outside the Majors. And this year, Carlos Alcaraz and Elena Rybakina are collectively on course for an even rarer feat, “The Double Sunshine Double”, where both tournaments are won by the same man and woman in the same year.
That has only happened once before, in 2005, by Roger Federer and Kim Clijsters. The Sunshine Double is also historically important, because often a player who achieves it either serves notice or a reminder of their greatness. Winning two such prestigious tournaments back to back has often been the precursor to a Major victory, or even a period of dominance.
Here then are the Five Finest Sunshine Doubles to date, taking in both male and female players, in chronological order.
1.1991: JIM COURIER
The USA’s Jim Courier was the first player of either gender to win the Sunshine Double. In 1991, the men’s event was still played out over five sets and Courier won a genuine five-set marathon against France’s Guy Forget in the final, which was only settled by a closing-set tie-break, 4–6 6–3 4–6 6–3 7–6 (7–4). The final in Miami a few weeks later against Courier’s far less heralded compatriot, David Wheaton, was only played out over three sets, and Courier, after losing the first set, eventually won 4–6 6–3 6–4.
This inaugural Sunshine Double proved to be the perfect platform for Courier, because just a few months later he won his first Major, at the French Open, when he beat his far more heralded compatriot, Andre Agassi, in another five-set classic, 3–6 6–4 2–6 6–1 6–4. Even though the French Open was obviously on a completely different surface to the hard courts of Indian Wells and Miami, the memory of those triumphs, particularly the five-set triumph in Miami, clearly stood Courier in good stead as he stunned the world and defeated Agassi at Roland Garros.
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- 1994: STEFFI GRAF
German great Steffi Graf was the first woman to win the Sunshine Double in 1994. She defeated South Africa’s Amanda Coetzer in the Indian Wells final, bagelling her in the first set before breaking her once to win the second set, for a straightforward 6–0 6–4 victory. By contrast, the final in Miami went to three sets, as Russia’s Natasha Zvereva won a hard-fought first set before Graf found her Indian Wells form to triumph 4–6 6–1 6–2.
Although Zvereva only won three more games after winning the first set in Miami in 1994, it was certainly a far closer contest than her most infamous meeting with Graf. That had come in the 1988 French Open final, when Graf double-bagelled her to win 6-0 6-0. To be fair to Zvereva, Graf was at her absolute peak that year, as she won “The Golden Slam” of all four Majors and Olympic Gold in Seoul, after tennis was readmitted to the Olympics for the first time since 1924. And when the two women met again six years later in the Miami final, Zvereva certainly gave Graf a tough match before Steffi eventually closed out the first Sunshine Double for a woman.
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- 2011: NOVAK DJOKOVIC
Arguably the most important Sunshine Double ever was that of Novak Djokovic in 2011. That is because it really proved that Djokovic had finally arrived at the top of the men’s game. He had won the Australian Open a few months earlier, but then again he had already won the Australian Open in 2008 and for the next few years had been unable to build on it to really challenge the Federer-Nadal monopoly. In 2011, however, he backed up his second Australian Open victory with a Sunshine Double to prove that he would be a permanent presence at the top table of tennis, even if nobody at the time could have known that he would largely dominate the men’s game for the next decade (and more).
What made Djokovic’s 2011 Sunshine Double even more impressive is that in both finals he beat Rafael Nadal. In Indian Wells (which by this time was a three-set event), he lost the first set but showed what would become his trademark resilience to win the next two sets relatively comfortably for a 4–6 6–3 6–2 victory. However, his Miami triumph was even more noteworthy. He again lost the first set, but after winning the second set he and Nadal were engaged in an epic third that was only finally settled on a tie-break, for a 4–6 6–3 7–6 (7–4) triumph.
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2017: ROGER FEDERER
If Djokovic’s 2011 Sunshine Double served notice that the Serb was now ready to challenge, and even overtake, Federer and Nadal, then Federer’s own Sunshine Double in 2017 was a reminder that he really was back to his best and might even be better than he had ever been. Of course, a few months earlier Federer had achieved one of the greatest comebacks in the history of tennis when he beat Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open to win his first Major in nearly five years. However, a few months later in Indian Wells and Miami, he proved that that was not just a one-off and that instead he really had entered the last and arguably greatest phase of his extraordinary career.
Federer had already won two Sunshine Doubles before 2017, in 2005 and 2006, when he was in his first golden age as a player, which extended from 2003 to 2008. But nearly a decade later he amazed the world by showing that, if anything, he was an even better player in his mid-thirties than he had been in his mid-20s, having responded to the dual challenge of Nadal and Djokovic by remodelling his game, particularly his backhand. And Indian Wells and Miami saw that hard work pay off as he won both finals, against Stan Wawrinka and Nadal respectively, in straight sets and with relative ease. At the time, The Guardian’s tennis writer claimed that Federer was not only playing the best tennis of his career but arguably the best tennis that anyone had ever played. And it was hard to disagree.
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2022: IGA ŚWIĄTEK
What a difference a year can make in tennis? This time last year, Iga Swiatek responded to the retirement of Ash Barty, the then women’s world #1, by embarking on an extraordinary 37-match winning run, the longest on the WTA Tour this century and one of the longest ever, which encompassed the Sunshine Double and eventually the French Open. She beat Maria Sakkari 6–4 6–1 in the Indian Wells final and was even more dominant in the Miami final, where she thrashed Naomi Osaka 6–4 6–0. And although that long winning run eventually came to an end at Wimbledon, where she lost to Alizé Cornet, she responded brilliantly by winning the US Open and ended 2022 as an utterly dominant world #1.
Of course Swiątek remains world #1, and by a considerable distance, but 12 months on from her Sunshine Double she is not nearly so dominant. Indeed, at least two other women have shown that they can challenge her and even beat her. The first is Aryna Sabalenka, the big-hitting Belarusian, who won her first Major at the Australian Open in January. But arguably Swiatek’s biggest rival is Elena Rybakina, who not only beat her at the Australian Open but doubled down on that victory by beating her again in Indian Wells a few weeks ago en route to the title. Świątek was unable to defend her title in Miami this year because of a rib injury, but whenever she returns to the tour she knows that she faces a twin threat that did not exist a year ago.
As we enter finals weekend in Miami, it is still possible that Carlos Alcaraz and Elena Rybakina can both win a Sunshine Double of their own. Rybakina is already in the women’s final, where she will be the favourite against either Petra Kvitova or Sorana Cirstea, who contest the other semifinal. And although Alcaraz is not yet in the final, he can be extremely confident of winning in Miami because it looks very much like Indian Wells two weeks ago. He again faces Jannik Sinner in the semifinal and if he wins he is likely to face Daniil Medvedev, the favourite against his fellow Russian Karen Khachanov in the other semifinal, who he absolutely demolished in Indian Wells.
If Alcaraz and Rybakina achieve a “Double Sunshine Double” by both winning in Miami this weekend, then 2023 could become one of the truly historic Sunshine Doubles. Rybakina will have proved that she is the most consistent and most dangerous threat to Świątek at the top of the women’s game. And even more extraordinarily, Carlos Alcaraz will have added to the growing suspicion that he might be about to become the most complete tennis player there has ever been.
Main Photo Credit: Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports