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Tentative text messages, murmured requests through a friend of a friend, the promise you have found the man of your dreams. It appears that some of the methods of seeking a mixed doubles partner for a grand slam are curiously similar to the approaches made by those anxious to find a love match.
And if the more direct approach does not work, there is always the tennis equivalent of Tinder – though rather than swiping left or right, “single” players can add their name and contact details to a list stating they are on the hunt for a partner. In both cases, chemistry is all important.
Jamie Murray, a four-time mixed doubles major champion, has a knack of attracting some of the best female partners, including former world No 1 singles players such as Jelena Jankovic, Martina Hingis and Victoria Azarenka. His partner for this year’s Wimbledon, meanwhile, is likely to be the American eight-time doubles grand-slam winner Bethanie Mattek-Sands, with whom he lifted last year’s US Open.
Yet for all this success, even Murray has on occasion had to resort to putting his name on the list of those on the market for a partner. “It happens to me sometimes, because it can be that people think you already have a partner or they don’t have you in mind for various reasons,” he tells The Daily Telegraph.
Because mixed doubles is only played at majors and the Olympics – as well as the odd exhibition such as the Hopman Cup – it is perceived by some as a curiosity, and that is reflected in the relatively paltry prize money on offer. The Wimbledon champions receive £58,000 per person, which is barely more than the £45,000 given to first-round losers in the singles.
For the majority of those involved, however, it is an event to be taken seriously. Brazilian Bruno Soares, who was Murray’s long-term men’s doubles partner, says: “It’s no less serious for me. It’s a grand slam, everyone wants to win – there’s prize money involved. No one just goes to mess around, that’s not me. I want to win.”
Murray sees the combination of a prestigious event with the fun aspect of mixed doubles as key to growing the appeal of the sport. “You see a different side to players.They smile and laugh, which you don’t often see when you are watching Centre Court. People see a softer side of tennis when they watch mixed doubles, which I think is very cool and the matches are very well attended.
“In mixed you get crazy rallies, which lends itself to comical moments on the tennis court. It is different and unique in that regard. People enjoy coming to watch it because they can relate to it more because it is what they are playing in their parks and clubs. I also think that in this day and age it is very important that you can watch men and women competing with and against each other.”
And as Murray explains, sometimes it is not just the spectators marvelling at what they are seeing. When linking up with Hingis, Murray admits there were times when he could not believe what he was witnessing. “Martina has amazing hand skills, amazing reading of the game, amazing feel,” Murray says of a player with whom he won the Wimbledon and US Open titles in 2017.
“Her understanding of court positioning is unparalleled. Then there is her champion mentality, and her ability to make the shot she needed to make at the right time was quite incredible. I have never experienced that with any partner I played with whether it was a man or a woman – that was really cool to see first hand.”
As well as the novelty partnerships, mixed doubles can also provide interest for the tennis connoisseur. “Mixed is more about strategy and a little bit more of the cat and mouse game,” Soares says. “It’s about working out how to use the women’s strengths to your advantage.
“Some women who I played with like [Elena] Vesnina or [Ekaterina] Makarova, for instance, were really good from the back, so I would tell them rather than playing the normal doubles game at the net, try and stay at the back. Because I’ve seen them rallying with any guy – everyone, guys with the biggest shots – and they can take it.”
But for mixed doubles really to enter the mainstream, it needs a big star to give it a boost. Step forward, then, Jamie’s brother Andy, whose planned entry for this year’s Wimbledon mixed doubles has made it the most talked-about event in years. As Jamie says: “people also want to see stars play, the more stars they can get on court at the one time the better.”
In a year that began with Serena Williams and Roger Federer facing each other in the Hopman Cup, and will now see Britain’s greatest player competing at Wimbledon, mixed doubles would appear to be entering an unlikely golden age.
Jamie Murray launched his YouTube channel to give insight into the life of a doubles pro and to share coaching tips with players, fans and coaches. https://www.youtube. com/JamieMurrayTennis