Why mixed doubles is the most entertaining draw at Wimbledon

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LONDON — Just moments after the final scheduled match concluded on No. 1 Court on Friday, an announcement was made. There would be one more match that evening.

Few left their seats and a palpable buzz spread over the stadium as the fans waited for the players to take the court. As word circulated around the grounds at the All England Club, others made their way into the stadium to come catch a glimpse.

In their debut together, Venus Williams and Jamie Murray would be taking on Alicja Rosolska and Michael Venus in a first-round mixed doubles match.

Williams said playing with Murray was something she had wanted to do “forever,” but joked that he was “hard to get.” The 42-year-old had arrived at Wimbledon not even planning on playing at all, but had a change of heart once she saw the grass. Her coach texted Murray at the last minute and he agreed to play with her — something both seemed thrilled to have the chance to do.

The superstar pairing of Williams, an 11-time champion at Wimbledon in singles and doubles, playing in her first match since August, and Murray, the local favorite and seven-time major winner in doubles and mixed, instantly became must-see viewing.

They more than lived up to the hype in a dramatic three-set victory that lasted well into the night, and required the roof to be closed for lighting. When it was over, the crowd — almost all of whom remained until the final point — showered them with a rousing ovation.

“It was a great experience, [getting to] play with Venus Williams,” Murray said after. “When am I going to get the chance to do that?”

With the absences of so many household names before the second week at the All England Club, due to upsets, COVID and the banning of Russian and Belarusian players, it was a much-needed dose of star power at the tournament.

It also served as a reminder that mixed doubles — which also includes a Coco Gauff and Jack Sock team — might just be the most entertaining tennis you’re not yet watching at the All England Club.

Mixed doubles doesn’t exactly get much attention during the Grand Slams, but every now and then there is a star-studded pairing too compelling to be ignored by the masses. Such was the case for Williams’ and Murray’s younger siblings — you know, Serena and Andy — who teamed up at the All England Club in 2019 and reached the third round.

While Williams-Murray teams are typically featured on show courts, mixed doubles matches are often relegated to the outer courts and considered the last priority when scheduling the day’s matches. They toil in television obscurity as well, rarely being featured. Not to mention, the winning team will earn just under $150,000 to split — a 24% increase over 2021 but still a ways off from the $2.41 million awarded to the singles champions, or even the $650,000 for the doubles victors.

But few of the high-profile players are in it for the money or the accolades. Instead it’s an opportunity to play alongside, and against, players they would never get to share the court with otherwise. And it’s a chance to enjoy playing during an otherwise super-serious Grand Slam.

“It was a lot of fun tonight,” Murray said after the first-round match. “We had a good time. … [It’s] amazing to be on court with such a champion.”

Unlike doubles, which is held at every tournament on tour, mixed doubles takes place only at the majors. Players don’t even have to sign up until the first round of singles has already taken place. There are few chances to play with the same partner — let alone practice with one another — and the lack of consistent pairings and unfamiliarity often provide some of the best moments on and off the court.

Gauff turned to Twitter to find her partner for the tournament, posting simply: “Who wants to play mixed at Wimby?”

Sock, who won the mixed doubles at the US Open in 2011 and the Olympic gold medal in the event in 2016, didn’t hesitate in shooting his shot. “We’d be a decent team,” he wrote alongside the eyes emoji.

Gauff hinted the two had formalized their partnership on TikTok by telling fans her partner’s “last name is the same as an article of clothing.” The back-and-forth on social media added intrigue to the draw before it was even revealed on Wednesday.

On Saturday, hours after both Gauff and Sock had lost in singles in heartbreaking fashion, the two opened mixed doubles play against Olivia Nicholls and Kyle Edmund. Despite their respective disappointments earlier in the day, neither Gauff nor Sock could hide their joy at playing with one another in a 6-4, 6-1 victory. When Gauff hit an overhead slam for an easy point in the first set, Sock offered some commentary and Gauff couldn’t help but laugh.

“I was laughing, smiling on every point,” Gauff said after. “With the intensity of singles and even [women’s] doubles, it’s not really often [I can do that]. Yeah, for me it was kind of crazy to play with him. It was definitely a bucket list for me and I’m glad I was able to do that.”

Gauff was already thinking ahead to a potential semifinal showdown with Williams and Murray when she spoke to reporters on Saturday, but that won’t happen. Not this year anyway. Williams and Murray fell in a dramatic third-set tiebreak for a 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (16) loss to Jonny O’Mara and Alicia Barnett on Sunday.

But, playing at the same time on the adjacent court, Gauff and Sock got one step closer to reaching the semis — and beyond — with a 6-4, 7-6 (3) win over Nicolas Mahut and Zhang Shuai. They’ll next play in the quarterfinals on Monday and take on Alize Cornet, who ended Iga Swiatek’s 37-match win streak on Saturday, and Edouard Roger-Vasselin.

Cornet is just one of the other big-name singles players remaining in the mixed doubles draw. Former major champions Sam Stosur (with Matthew Ebden) and Jelena Ostapenko (with Robert Farah) are both still in contention as well.

Gauff admitted she was disappointed to have been handed the earliest singles exit of her young career at the All England Club in the third round, but said the loss made her all the more focused on mixed doubles.

“Right now my hope is to do well, as good as I can, in mixed,” Gauff said. “[And] not let Jack down on that part.”

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