Mark Woodforde first told Todd Woodbridge to shut up during the
best-of-three doubles final at the 1991 Donnay Indoor
Championships in Brussels. They had won the opening set against
Libor Pimek and Michiel Schapers 6-3 and were leading 3-0 in the
second. "We'd never made a final before, and Todd couldn't stop
yapping," says Woodforde. "He was so nervous, he was frothing at
While Woodbridge frothed, Pimek and Schapers fussed. "Those guys
were in total disarray," Woodforde says. "In fact, they had gone
into the tank."
Still, Woodbridge fretted. During the changeover, he asked his
more experienced partner, "What if they rally and win the next
Woodforde counseled, "Just stay calm, play normal, and we'll win."
February 3, 1997
"But what if...."
"Look across the net. They're screaming at each other."
"Todd, shut up!"
He did, and they won the set 6-0 for their first title.
Forty-one tournament championships later, Woodbridge says, "I've
"A lot better," says Woodforde. In fact, he hasn't told
Woodbridge to shut up since.
Shutting up these Australians is one thing; shutting them down
is another. In a kind of March of the Woody Soldiers, the finest
men's doubles team of the past decade consolidated its dominance
in 1996, finishing atop the rankings for the third time in five
years and winning 12 of the 13 finals they made (the most since
John McEnroe and Peter Fleming won 15 in 1979). Last July they
became the first pairing this century to win Wimbledon four
consecutive times. Then, after winning Olympic gold in August,
they became the first Open era duo to successfully defend a U.S.
Open crown. Their victory last week in the Australian Open was
their eighth Grand Slam doubles title, a team record in the Open
Yet in the singles-minded world of contemporary tennis, the
Woodies travel in obscurity. "We're not like Boris Becker or
Andre Agassi, getting our bums wiped at every tour stop," says
"People never know who we are," says Woodbridge. "Even umpires."
For the uninitiated, the 31-year-old Woodforde is the steady,
sturdy senior partner. At 25, Woodbridge is more like an
unbridled colt. He's usually polite, almost courtly with
interviewers. He does, however, possess a wasp's nest of a
temper, which he usually directs at his equipment bag--once
nearly shattering a watch within.
While the Woodies have healthy singles rankings (Woodbridge is
32nd, Woodforde is 44th), doubles prowess has accounted for more
than half of their winnings: Last year each made $676,593 from
doubles, compared with Woodforde's $655,434 and Woodbridge's
$404,040 from singles. But while they don't care who their
doubles opponents are, there's one singles player they both
dread: the other Woody. "It's like playing your wife," says
Woodbridge, who is 5-2 against his partner.
"To keep Todd happy," explains Woodforde, "I have to lose."
Through seven years of Woodwork, Mark and Todd have maintained
an unshakable friendship. "They're amiable and approachable,"
says doubles specialist Grant Connell of Canada, "but a little
removed and isolated from the rest of us. I've known the Woodies
for almost 10 years, and it wasn't until a few months ago that
they asked me to dinner."
The Woodies like to hang together ("We always exchange Christmas
cards and gifts," says Woodforde), but they live apart--2,500
miles apart. Woodforde and his girlfriend, Erin Quigley, share a
house in Mission Hills, Calif. Woodbridge and his wife, Natasha,
call Orlando home. Todd and Natasha met through her older
sister, Nicole Bradtke, who happens to be Woodforde's mixed
doubles partner. Also, Mark was Todd's best man at his wedding
in 1995. "It all gets so incestuous," says Natasha.
At their most cohesive the Woodies move as a single organism,
anticipating each other's games and reactions. Lacking
overpowering serves, they confound opponents with an array of
dinks, sharply angled volleys and off-pace returns. "Most teams
have a weakness you can key on--a feeble backhand volley or a
slow second serve," says Connell. "The real strength of the
Woodies is that they have no weaknesses."
Woodforde was five when he was given a racket by his father, a
tennis pro at a club in Adelaide. At eight he vowed, "Some day
I'll be good enough to earn enough money to buy Mum and Dad a
dishwasher." When he was turned down by the state-run tennis
school, Mum and Dad took out a loan to bankroll him on the tour.
By the time he was good enough to spring for a dishwasher, his
parents had already bought one.
It may have been puppy love that drew the 23-year-old Woodforde
to McEnroe, perhaps the best and most carnivorous of all doubles
players. "Like most pros," Woodforde recalls, "I thought John
was a bit of an a------." But in 1988 McEnroe, then 29, was
looking for a partner, and Woodforde had just beaten him twice
in singles--most memorably at the U.S. Open. Mustering his
courage, Woodforde made a pitch. "So," snapped McEnroe, "just
because you beat me two times in two weeks, you think you're
good enough to play doubles with me?"
Woodforde mumbled, "Uh ... yeah."
"We'll see about that," McEnroe responded, and upon that
foundation of mutual respect a doubles team was built. "My
thinking at the time was simple," says McEnroe now. "If you
can't beat 'em, join 'em."
Woodforde reminded McEnroe of Rod Laver: "He was an Aussie, a
lefty and had red hair." The southpaws played seven tournaments,
winning three, including the 1989 U.S. Open. When McEnroe
dissolved the union in 1990 to focus on singles, he told
Woodforde to find a righthander who was younger and, preferably,
a countryman, to help with communication. Woodbridge fit the
bill: He was Sydney-born and fresh out of the Australian
Institute of Sport, the school that had rejected Woodforde.
These days, the Woodies' biggest doubles trouble is a lack of
competition. Although many women pros regularly play doubles to
sharpen their skills at the net, the top male players rarely do
so, finding the pay too meager, the risk of injury too great and
the scheduling too erratic. "Doubles is a poor relation to
singles," laments Woodforde.
You wouldn't know how poor from looking at the ATP Tour's 1997
money winner list, in which Woodbridge ranks second ($263,011)
and Woodforde fourth ($223,011). But once a few more rich
singles purses have been collected by other players, the
Woodies' rankings will shift rapidly downward. It is, after all,
a different financial universe in doubles. At the world
championships in Hartford in November, the total prize pool for
the 16-man event was $500,000, less than half the $1.34 million
Pete Sampras got for winning the world singles championships
that same month. "I think that's appalling," says Woodforde,
whose victory in Hartford was worth $82,500.
"Is Woodforde kidding?" snickers McEnroe. "He and Woodbridge
only split 165 grand for beating Grant Connell and Byron
Somebody. Come on! They should be looking up to the Lord and
thanking him for getting paid anything to beat those guys. The
fact is that the Number 1 doubles team in the world today
doesn't sell any tickets."
And that's no knock on Woodies.