Quite a few times during the course of the match, the commentator mentioned how Wimbledon was the only mixed doubles Grand Slam title that Sania Mirza had not yet won. The one every tennis aficionado covets, on the pristine courts in the All England Club.
In the season she’s decided that will be her last, she was just a step away from that elusive chance of completing the career Grand Slam in mixed doubles. She had never reached a mixed doubles semifinal at Wimbledon before. And here she was, with medical strappings on her legs, battle scars from years gone by - ready to give it one last shot.
Of course, sport doesn’t quite work that way.
India’s representation at the Wimbledon Championships ended late on Wednesday as Mirza lost in her mixed doubles semifinal in a gripping three-set match.
The 35-year-old, who had paired up with men’s doubles Olympic champion Mate Pavic went down to defending champions and second seeds Neil Skupski of England and American Desirae Krawczyk 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, in a match that lasted two hours and 16 minutes.
Mirza had lost early in the women’s doubles, as she and her Czech partner Lucie Hradecka lost 6-4, 4-6, 2-6 to scratch pair Magdalena Frech and Beatriz Haddad Maia in the opening round. But later reached her first ever Wimbledon mixed doubles semifinal.
In the earlier rounds, the sixth seeded Mirza-Pavic pairing came up with a tight 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 (10-3) win over Natela Dzalamidze and David Vega Hernandez in the first round. They received a bye in the second round against Latisha Chan and Ivan Dodig.
They had to work hard again in the quarterfinal against fourth seeds John Peers and Gabriela Dabrowski, winning 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. And they followed a similar trend on Wednesday by taking the first set.
Hours before the match Krawczyk had played another tight three-setter, when she and compatriot Danielle Collins won their women’s doubles quarterfinals. Arguably, the 28-year-old had been struggling with fatigue in the early stage of the match. There was not much pace on her serve - it never crossed the 100 mile-per-hour mark - and she struggled to find a first serve, but she managed to hold.
It was Skupski who was broken and in the first half of the match it seemed like Mirza-Pavic could do no wrong, with the Indian dominating the match with her groundstrokes.
But during the changeover between the first two sets, Mirza had called a trainer for what seemed to be trouble with her leg – at that point, she had easily been the best player in the match.
Despite that, Skupski’s serve was broken in the opening game of the second set. Set up and break up, it was looking good for the Mirza-Pavic pair.
But later as Mirza-Pavic led 3-2, the Brit called for a medical timeout. After that lengthy break in play, the defending champions were a completely different team.
Skupski started to find his range better, and Krawczyk’s fatigue had seemingly disappeared. The duo went on to break Mirza’s serve to go 4-4, and the Indian was broken again to concede the set. Both Mirza and Pavic seemed to lose the timing on their shots, with Pavic too looking uncharacteristically unsettled at the net.
The third set would prove to be a thrill-a-minute affair. Many of the crowd that watched Rafael Nadal pull off another thrilling five-set win on Centre Court had walked into Court No 2 with a Brit to root for. Mirza too had her share of support. ‘Come on Sania!’ chants rang out every now and then as she nailed some groundstrokes but also needed some backing up on serve.
Krawczyk and Mirza’s respective serves were broken early in the deciding set, followed by Skupski holding a very nervous service game. During all that, there was a forehand service return winner from a 115mph bullet from Skupski that left the crowd gasping. It has been her signature shot and even in the final leg of her career, she could pack a punch.
Then it was over to Pavic to serve at 4-5. The generally steady Croatian doubles specialist, who had lost his rhythm early in the set but found it back during some thrilling rallies, started off with a double fault and an unforced error to go 0-30. They did get back into the game, taking it to deuce. He served a timely ace to cancel out the first match point, but could only see his half-volley crash into the net at the second match point to send the Brit-American pair to another mixed doubles final.
This was the last time Mirza would take to a court at Wimbledon, as she has decided to hang up her racquet at the end of the season. Whether she has a change of heart, given how well she has been playing this season, remains to be seen. But for now, it seems to be the end of a long journey. She did not win the title, but she did better her mixed doubles record at Wimbledon in her last showing at the grass-court Slam.
Sania Mirza wrote in her Instagram post, “It wasn’t meant to be this time @wimbledon but you have been nothing but spectacular. It has been an honor to play here and win here over the last 20 years. I will miss you, until we meet again....”
The veteran has won six Grand Slams in her career. In women’s doubles, she partnered Martina Hingis to the 2015 Wimbledon and US Open titles, and the 2016 Australian Open crown. In mixed doubles, she won the 2009 Australian Open and 2012 French Open with Mahesh Bhupathi, and 2014 US Open with Bruno Soares.
The perfect ending at Wimbledon wasn’t to be, but it has been one heck of a journey.