Fun is not the word you usually associate with Grand Slam matches on Centre Court. Players are there to compete and win, a little fun along the way is fine, but surely the match can’t be fun.
Fun is not the word you usually associate with Andy Murray on court. He is hilarious off it, but with the racquet in hand, the Scotsman is one of the most intense players on tour. Fun is not the first word when you think of Serena Williams in a major event either: she’s the personification of focus and determination.
But when the first week of an eventful Wimbledon came to an end with the much-hyped marquee mixed doubles match featuring Murray with Williams, ‘fun’ was the buzzword. The Centre Court was in a buoyant mood, the four competitors were all smiles even after poor shots and the delight in the face of the two former singles champions at All England Club was unmistakable. It brought a smile to everyone who was watching.
Grinning, Williams used the word ‘fun’ thrice in a sentence in her post match comments, Murray joked about who is the boss in the partnership. “We were saying we’re both the younger siblings, so we’re used to being bossed…. we’re taking it in turns to be boss.”
While both insisted they were taking this competition very seriously – their comprehensive 6-4, 6-1 win over Andreas Mies and Alexa Guarachi is proof – it was a rare Grand Slam match fought but in a lighter mood. And with their combined history, it was also a glimpse into the mentality of champions.
Williams was playing around six hours after her singles third-round win while Murray’s men’s doubles campaign had ended hours before. The match itself was delayed a day because they had not been able to fit it in on the main courts on Friday.
Doubles is not usually a top-billing event in the first week of a Major, in fact doubles is never really a showcase at Slams; mixed doubles even less so. But when the pair is “Ser Andy” (as Murray’s brother Jamie popularly anointed them) it was bound to have the spotlight. While both have won doubles titles before – Williams is a two-time mixed doubles champion at the Slams while Murray won an Olympics silver with Laura Robson at the same venue in 2012 – this was new territory for them.
When the two came on court – with nine singles Wimbledon trophies between them – the questions were varied: would they gel together? Would their bodies hold up? Who would do the heavy lifting?
However, it was not just about the singles pedigree of the players or the hype it had attracted. This match was about fightback and the love for the game, the passion for tennis from two players who have given it their all to the sport. The answer was plain to see: they were there to compete as well as to enjoy the game.
The tennis wasn’t high-level to begin with, as they are still evidently learning to adjust with each other. For a while both stood at the baseline, once Murray had to remind his partner to move forward to the net. Williams even suffered an amusing tumble with Murray trying not to hit her. The duo admitted they didn’t use the hand signals they had agreed upon.
But with their level of tennis IQ, they quickly caught on and the game was fine-tuned as the match progressed. They got the early break but there were too many missed chances in the first. When they went double break up at 4-0 in the second, you knew the formidable game styles had clicked. The winners looked sharper, the coordination was better, the gameplay tightened.
“I think in the first set, we were 1-10 on breakpoints. Creating lots of chances, but maybe weren’t as clinical as maybe we’d like to be. Again, that comes with matches a little bit,” Murray said after the game.
“I thought we served well... those key points, kind of getting in the groove. We both haven’t played a tremendous amount. I think we both are kind of really taking this, ‘Okay, this is great for both of us to get those points’, those points we really need to convert on,” Williams assessed the match.
The 32-year-old was also impressed by seeing the Serena serve from close quarters. “Just getting free points a lot on the serve, which isn’t always the case. In mixed it makes my life at the net a lot easier,” he added.
Just a casual conversation between two partners right? But there is so much more unravelling here.
To say the last two years have not been easy for Williams or Murray is an understatement. The two former world No 1 players have battled through some tough circumstances to stand there on Centre Court.
Williams gave birth to her daughter and needed life-saving surgery in 2017, returned to the court in 2018 but is still not at the level she was before. Murray has been troubled by a hip injury that forced him to tearfully announce that his singles career may be over at the Australian Open, before a “life-changing surgery” gave him a new lease of life in doubles.
He won his first tournament back, lifting the Queen’s title on grass with Feliciano Lopez and all eyes were on him at the doubles here. But finding a mixed doubles partner was not easy after world No 1 Ash Barty, among others, said no to him. The partnership with Serena came about late, after – or so she says – the media suggested it.
But as the heavy-duty pairing came through and passed their first test, what stands out in the partnership is the emotional involvement. The more they play together, the better they will get on court, with their game and champion mentality. But even if they don’t end up with another Wimbledon trophy, the freedom they get to have fun while playing a Grand Slam match is what will be the biggest takeaway from this experience.