Wimbledon 2019: Serena Williams and Andy Murray pairing gives mixed doubles the deserved spotlight
Pairing of Andy Murray and Serena Williams will give the mixed doubles event the limelight that is has long yearned for. At the same time, specialists would hope for bridging in gaps and treatment.
Mixed doubles is often the stepsister of doubles tennis, in the sense that it goes low in the pecking order of the average tennis watcher. And yet, it is in the mixed doubles where some brilliant, unexpected pairings have taken some huge victories.
Not many may have put Venus Williams and Rajeev Ram together, but the pair were silver medalists at the Rio Olympics in 2016. Together, Martina Hingis and Leander Paes have turned the idea of age in the sport on its head - granted, however, that doubles tennis is easier on the body than the singles.
Andy Murray, with his silver hip, returning to the game where he once ruled the roost, has now come back to a discipline one would certainly not associate with the Scot. Although he has played the doubles and mixed doubles competitively - without much success - this pairing with Serena Williams really is something else.
Until what seems like only days ago, Murray - who is still not back to full fitness and decided to stick to the doubles, declared very publicly that he had been rejected by a number of potential mixed doubles partners, among them World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty. It got to a point where Murray’s own grandmother volunteered to partner him.
And then, only a short while ago, Serena was asked if she was interested - and she responded with a short, succinct, “I’m available”. Perhaps their partnership had been in the works for weeks, even months; perhaps it was spur-of-the-moment. But for two players who need some matches and practice, whom better to pair up with?
A mixed doubles team with one multiple Grand Slam winner is big. A team where both players are former number ones and have been trailblazers in their field is nothing short of miraculous.
Indian tennis watchers paid special attention to the mixed doubles years ago when Hingis and Paes, and then Bopanna and Gabriela Dabrowski, took that stage by storm. India has, outside of the men’s doubles, been particularly successful in the mixed doubles, with Paes, Bhupathi and Sania Mirza all winning majors in that discpline.
Indeed, it really has been a case of ‘support-your-national-athlete’, or look out for your favourite player and support them. Often, what happens with singles tennis is that fan favourites stick only to that discipline, rather than playing any form of the doubles - so for the real “obsessive”, that fandom and viewership is lost.
Perhaps mixed doubles is considered less interesting, the shot-making ‘not as good’, and the step-sisterly treatment is plain to see even in the prize money for the mixed doubles.
Just to put that in perspective: the singles winners at Wimbledon will receive 2.35 million pounds. The mixed doubles winning pair receives 116,000 pounds.
Deduct from that fees for coaching staff, expenses and more, and it isn’t really very much. Mixed doubles winners are also not often as rich in sponsorships, partnerships and endorsements as even the top 40 singles players, and the Williams-Murray partnership would do well to highlight a discipline that quite often goes unwatched.
Why don’t as many people watch mixed doubles?
Most fans hold loyalties to - and almost exclusively watch only the top singles players. Those same top singles players, because singles tennis is such a taxing sport, tend not to play the doubles at all, making team tennis have less of the “name-recognition” singles tennis is known for. Second, with doubles teams - particularly mixed doubles teams - tending to be fluid and changing quickly, unlike in the doubles - where fans have had the Woodies (Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge), the Bryans (Mike and Bob), and the Williams.
But when Andy and Serena take the court together for the first time, one thing is for certain - that match will have the sort of record audience that few singles matches will ever experience. That, in turn, could see more attention towards both disciplines of the doubles, which suffer stepmotherly treatment from viewers, TV channels, streams - and most significantly of all, live spectators.
For Murray, the partnership gives him the chance to push through once again after his struggles, and for Serena to strike yet again; for her it could mean the chance at repeating mixed doubles glory after having been largely absent off that circuit for years. For the sport, it means viewership and a renewed popularity for a section that so many tennis watchers believed was for “those who couldn’t cut it in the singles”.
For three-time major winner Murray and 23-time majors winner Serena, singles tennis certainly has never been an issue.
For the first time, a high-profile match featuring two No. 1's isn’t some permutation or combination of Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic - and it’s not in the men’s singles. This doubles pairing is one of two heroes - one a modern-day hero for British tennis, the other arguably one of the greatest to ever have played the game.
Already, the pair have received the moniker of “SerAndy” - so perhaps two years after he was awarded his knighthood - and only months after he officially received it, we might hear “Arise, SerAndy”, yet again.
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