|Event: All England Club Dates: June 27-July 10|
|Coverage: Live on BBC TV, radio and online with extensive coverage on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, Connected TV and the mobile app.|
Venus Williams and Jamie Murray took their first step as a couple into the “brutal world” of doubles tennis with a maiden victory in the mixed event at Wimbledon.
It’s a game of whispers, secret hand gestures, the search for a suitable teammate, and sometimes pretty awkward breakups.
Just ask Germany’s Tamara Korpatsch, who was left “sad, disappointed and also very angry” after proposed partner Harmony Tan pulled out at the last minute following her singles victory over American great Serena Williams.
Tan’s recovery in time to defeat Sara Sorribes Tormo a day later has certainly did not help reconcile their fragile relationship.
It’s the kind of awkward situation world number one doubles player Joe Salisbury knows all too well.
“I’ve had some bad experiences,” said the Briton. “I’ve definitely had partners where it just didn’t work out personality-wise.
“I used to think it wasn’t that important because you can focus on tennis and not spend time with them off the court, but it doesn’t really work like that. It’s definitely an important thing to get along with.” with the person,” she added.
“The world of doubles can be pretty brutal. If you’re not in a long-term partnership, someone else could come along and a player will think ‘it’s better, so I’ll get rid of my current partner.’
“But that’s the way things are, really.”
Wild cards Murray and Williams, who in total have 23 Grand Slam doubles titles between them, defeated Michael Venus and Alicja Rosolska 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in their first round match.
Murray is a five-time senior men’s and two-time mixed doubles champion, while Williams has won 14 Slam women’s doubles titles alongside her sister Serena, as well as two mixed doubles wins.
The 42-year-old American hadn’t played on the tour since last August but requested a late entry to play two-time winner Murray as she aims to win the mixed competition at the All England Club for the first time.
Last year, Williams teamed up with Australian Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon for a match before the Aussie had to withdraw.
But have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how such often unlikely doubles pairings come about?
For Murray, it was as simple as having Williams’ coach write a few words.
“The Venus coach texted me asking if I wanted to play,” said the 36-year-old Briton. “Last year he asked me, but I hurt my neck. I can’t say no twice.”
Venus responded, “I’ve been trying to play him forever. He plays hard to get.”
“It was definitely super last minute. [I was] simply inspired by Serena. Like I said, it was amazing. I was so happy to have so much help today.”
Murray added: “Mixed doubles can be awkward too, how it plays out.
“It was fun. For me, that’s what I wanted to achieve. It was a great experience playing with Venus Williams. When do I get a chance to do that?”
However, it is not always that simple.
For Marta Kostyuk and Lukasz Kubot, the process was a bit more complicated.
“I started asking the doubles players ‘Do you want to play mixed here?’ and things like this,” said Kostyuk, a 20-year-old Ukrainian.
“Most of them were ready, but then Lukasz was practicing next to me. He probably heard me ask. He was constantly looking, not sure what he wanted.”
“And then the next day he asked me for my number because he wanted to play mixed.
“I was like, ‘This is a great idea,’ their protected ranking is pretty high, so definitely, go in. I was like, ‘Why not?’ Especially since he’s Polish, so it’s a great combination. That’s how I agreed to play.”
Unfortunately, Kostyuk was forced to withdraw before the new partnership could come together for their first match on Friday after sustaining an ankle injury in their second-round singles match.
When it comes down to it, Salisbury, who has won two men’s doubles and two mixed doubles Grand Slam titles, says the obvious quality to look for in a teammate is first and foremost a good player.
But beyond that, personality compatibility, on and off the court, becomes a very important factor.
“The first thing you’re looking at is who you think is the best, obviously,” he said.
“If there are guys who are similarly ranked, then you look at whether you’re going to get along with them, that’s the most important thing.”
In terms of doubles at Slams, women’s and mixed, the mixed competition at Wimbledon is one of only two events five-time singles champion Williams has failed to win.
She said she subsequently “puts a little more priority” on the grass slam, where this year’s mixed doubles final will feature more prominently on Thursday night.
It has led to his surprising last-minute trophy-laden partnership with Murray, a combination sure to turn heads for as long as his campaign lasts.
For Salisbury, who is chasing a third Grand Slam men’s doubles title alongside Rajeev Ram, the heightened interest in the game that accompanies the foray of household names into doubles is a positive, rather than a distraction, for the regulars.
“I definitely think it’s [a good thing]. First of all, make the competition as strong as possible,” Salisbury said.
“I think it’s great when singles players play doubles, assuming they’re there to put in all their effort and not just collect the prize money check.
“When big-name singles players play, it creates more interest and I think a lot of people will watch the doubles and think, actually, they enjoy watching them, because obviously a lot of the focus is on the singles.”
Oh, and what about those secret hand gestures and whispers? Very focused on the next point, sorry to disappoint you.