When Jonny O’Mara and Luke Bambridge were handed wildcards by the LTA at the Eastbourne International, few could have predicted the journey the British duo were about to embark upon. In little over nine months, the Britons have reached four ATP tour finals together, clinching two titles and, as a result, have both hit new career high rankings.
For Jonny O’Mara, this whirlwind journey is only just beginning, as he explains to The Big Racket .
An unexpected rise
Starting March with a new career high ranking of 50 in the doubles, 24 year-old O’Mara and his partner, Luke Bambridge, have caught many British fans by surprise. “It feels great to be inside the top 50”, Jonny says. “I’m not a massive fan of looking at points and rankings but I definitely feel it’s a good achievement.”
It has been a phenomenal rise. In June 2018, O’Mara was offered a wildcard into the main draw of the Eastbourne International. But with their first round opponents being the experienced Dom Inglot and Franko Skugor, and with a possible quarter-final encounter with the top seeds, nobody expected the Brits to succeed. Yet, with the aid of two deciding set tie-breaks, the duo were into an ATP semi-final. After a straight sets victory, they were competing against the Skupski brothers in the final, running out 7-5 6-4 winners to clinch a first ever ATP trophy.
In just one week, O’Mara was an ATP title holder and the duo haven’t looked back. After winning the Stockholm Open in October, as well as the Orleans Challenger in-between, O’Mara and Bambridge have started 2019 with two ATP finals, where they were runners-up in Pune and Sao Paulo.
A success story which few predicted.
Committed to doubles
Deciding to ditch singles tennis in order to pursue a career in doubles is a difficult decision, and this was no different for Jonny. “I felt like I was never able to fully commit to singles. I was always making compromises in my schedule or in training, which was never going to be enough to make a career in singles, given the number of guys competing to make it.”
With the decision made, O’Mara believes he has matured a lot more since turning to the doubles tour, and with the added benefit of sharing the highs and lows with someone else, it has enabled the youngster to pursue a career in the sport. And finding the right partner in Luke Bambridge at such an early stage in his doubles career is proving to be a recipe for success.
“We have known each other all our tennis careers, playing each other as juniors. It helps to know his game and which shot he’s going to hit. I think we both have big weapons on the doubles court, so if you can execute the strengths then you’re going to be a tough team to beat.”
And while many tournaments favour singles stars over doubles specialists in their draws, O’Mara is not fazed and relishes the chance to play some of the sport’s greats. “A lot of crowds that watch tennis want to see big names play and a lot of the big names are singles guys. I like it. Being able to play against the best players in the world on the doubles court is a lot of fun.
“At lower levels, it may be tougher to be a doubles specialist, but that’s how it is and you have to work around that. If you’re good enough at what you do, you’ll find a way to win.”
The rise of British doubles
Of course it’s not just O’Mara and Bambridge making headlines in doubles this year. Joe Salisbury has been a stand-out star since Wimbledon and the Skupski brothers continue to impress in ATP tournaments. Dom Inglot still features regularly at the highest level, while Jamie Murray continues to perform at such a high and consistent level.
Doubles tennis is proving to be going through a purple patch in Britain, which O’Mara puts down to tremendous support from coaches and the LTA. “We really have a great system in Britain for doubles. I think it’s one of the very few, maybe even only, governing bodies that invests time in doubles.
“Leon Smith has been open to helping where he can, and being able to work with Louis Cayer has definitely contributed to all of the doubles guy’s games. He really brings a fantastic system to all our games: we could play with any other Brit and feel comfortable. There are a lot of good coaches that are helping all of us individually, and we seem to be riding the momentum and pushing each other on.”
And support has been great from the British fans. While doubles isn’t as accessible for viewers to watch, O’Mara is grateful for the support he and Bambridge have received: “I get quite a few messages before and after matches from British supporters that always try to tune in to our matches. It definitely makes the whole experience better for us dubs guys.”
The level of talent Britain is producing is sure to give Smith a welcome headache when it comes to selecting his Davis Cup squad later in the year. For O’Mara, it’s becoming increasingly likely that he will represent Britain in the future. At 24, he is at a very early stage of his doubles career, and as he continues to progress and finesse his game, it could lead to great things.
If it’s not this year’s Davis Cup, then the Tokyo 2020 Olympics could be within reach, especially given the recent level O’Mara is at. “It would be a huge honour”, says O’Mara. “It definitely wasn’t a goal to make it Tokyo. Honestly, I didn’t expect to be as high in the rankings as quickly as we have, but now there’s a chance that we could make it, it really would be amazing.”
What’s next for O’Mara?
After making a fantastic start to the year, and continuing his progress up the rankings, the last year has been an unexpected journey for O’Mara. However, the Scot is grounded in his expectations, knowing his journey has only just begun.
“Everything is so new for us, so to keep competing hard and learning every week is a good start. We are both still very young for doubles, so the more experience we gain now can only benefit our careers.
“I want to win Slams. I haven’t been scared of the level it takes to be the best – we can play at that level for a one-off match. The tough part is being able to play that level consistently, but I don’t see why winning Slams or being number one shouldn’t be a target.”
With Dom Inglot and Jamie Murray flying the flag so successfully for British doubles tennis over the last decade, the rise in prominence of Bambridge, Salisbury, the Skupski brothers and O’Mara has been welcomed by British fans. The level these players are at is mouthwatering and the success Britain could have in the next ten years proves that the way doubles players are brought through the system is working.
The journey might just beginning, but the prospects of reaching the top are very real. With new adventures still to come, including an appearance at Roland Garros, the future is bright for Jonny O’Mara.