Forget Love Island, the flirtation level at the All England Club kept rising almost as fast as the mercury on Saturday as Andy Murray and Serena Williams discussed the possibility of an all-star mixed doubles pairing.
Played for a first prize of just £58,000 each, the mixed doubles is very much the poor relation of Wimbledon’s tournaments in business terms. Even if they lifted the title, it would barely count as a pinprick in either player’s annual accounts.
But it is also a blast for those participating, particularly when they can count on British support. Look at Heather Watson, who lifted the title in 2016 and spoke afterwards of having “so much fun” with her Finnish partner Henri Kontinen.
Murray has been vacillating over whether to participate in the mixed doubles as well as the men’s event, which he has entered with France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert. He was concerned that bad weather might force the schedule to back up and thus require him to play two matches in a day when he is still building his physical capacity up from January’s hip surgery.
After seeing a forecast of uninterrupted sun for the next fortnight, however, he seems to have become more optimistic. “With the weather looking like it's going to be pretty good, I'm up for it,” he said last night.
So what about Williams, who had earlier engaged with the idea of an American-Scottish partnership. “She's arguably the best player ever,” he replied. “She would be a pretty solid partner.”
The real question is whether she would be interested in signing up for the tournament – an administrative detail which takes place on Wednesday, and is only open to players who are already participating in one of the other four events.
“I'm available,” said Williams on Saturday. “I'm feeling better now, so I'm definitely available.” Asked if she was being serious about the possibility, she gave her most enigmatic look and said “We just have to wait and see. I like to be tongue-in-cheek. Let's see how my knee's going. I'm finally doing good. I don't want to, like, go back.”
Williams has only completed 11 matches on the tour all season because of that left knee, which is believed to be all but barren of cartilage. As her coach Patrick Mouratoglou told the New York Times this weekend, “She was in pain for three months, so it’s just a big, big difference [to be feeling better]. The knee was swelling all the time. It was big. She needed treatment every day to be able to step on a court even though in pain.”
After her third-round exit from the French Open, earlier this month, Williams spoke about trying to fit in a warm-up tournament on the grass. In the end, though, she opted to stay in Paris – where she has a house – and undergo a combination of treatment and rehab work.
As it happens, the gym she was working in turned out to also be the training base for the England women’s football team, who impressed her with their intensity. “It was so fun to see how hard they worked, just how amazing they were,” said Williams, who admitted that her loyalties might be ever so slightly torn when the Lionesses take on the USA in the World Cup semi-final.
“I was looking at them in the gym,” Williams added. “We were like workout buddies. I'm like, ‘Okay, I cannot do that.’ At one point I wanted to join in their ab exercise. I wonder if I could scoot to the side and do exactly what they're doing. It's kind of cool, that experience of watching the Brit women, then having the team that I'm rooting for, USA, go against each other.”
Williams admitted on Saturday that her preparation has been sub-optimal, and that she is desperately short of matchplay. But if anyone can get away with coming in undercooked, it is her. And especially at Wimbledon, where her peerless serve racks up cheap points while minimising the stress on her body.
She saw some “good doctors” in Paris, she said, and then began her court-work ten days ago. “First day obviously is not super-fast. I just did like 30 minutes on court. Each day my body, thank God, is really quick to learn. By day four I was full in with a couple hours, not including gym sessions. I'm just going to do the best that I can now that I'm here. I know how to play tennis.”
Williams has landed in one of the most stacked quarters of a draw in Wimbledon history, which also features world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and defending champion Angelique Kerber. Even her old rival Maria Sharapova could be a possible fourth-round opponent, although given their recent struggles with injury, it would be a surprise if both women made it that far.
Murray and Herbert also have a challenging draw, with sixth seeds Nikola Mektic and Franko Skugor as potential second-round opponents, followed by what could be a showstopping third round against his brother Jamie Murray and Liverpool’s Neal Skupski.
“Even if were separated on opposite ends of the draw, people would be talking about us playing in the final,” said Andy Murray on Saturday. “We have to win matches first.
“If we play each other, it would be difficult in some respects. You're competing against your brother, biggest tennis event in the world. I'd rather be on the same side of the net with him. But it's cool if we did get the opportunity, that we'd be doing it on the biggest stage in our sport.”