October 3, 2022

American five-time singles champion Venus Williams makes an unexpected appearance at the All England Club 11 months after she last played a match
Venue: All England Club Appointment: June 27-July 10
Cover: Live on BBC TV, radio and online with extensive coverage on BBC iPlayer, Red Button, connected TVs 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, finding a suitable teammate – and sometimes quite 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 win over American great Serena Williams.

Tan’s recovery in time to defeat Sara Sorribes Tormo a day later certainly not helped to reconcile their fragile relationship.

It’s the kind of uncomfortable situation Joe Salisbury, world number one in men’s doubles, knows well.

“I had bad experiences,” said the Briton. “I’ve definitely had partners where it just didn’t work personality-wise.

“Before, I thought it wasn’t that bad because you can just focus on the tennis and not hang out with them off the court, but it doesn’t really work that way. It’s definitely a important thing to get along well with the person,” he added.

“The world of doubles can be pretty brutal. If you’re not in a long-term partnership, someone else might come along and a player will think ‘they’re better, so I’m going to ditch my current partner’.

“But that’s how it is, really.”

Wildcards Murray and Williams, who have a combined 23 Grand Slam doubles titles, defeated Michael Venus and Alicja Rosolska 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in their first round match.

Murray is a five-time mixed doubles champion and two-time men’s doubles major, while Williams has won 14 women’s doubles titles alongside sister Serena in addition to two mixed doubles triumphs.

The 42-year-old American hadn’t played on the tour since last August but requested a late entry to play with two-time winner Murray as she aims to win the mixed competition at the All England Club for the first time.

Last year, Williams partnered Australian Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon for one match before the Aussie had to retire.

But have you ever wondered how such – often unlikely – pairings come about?

For Murray, it was as simple as Williams’ coach typing a few words.

“Venus’ coach texted me asking if I wanted to play,” said the 36-year-old Briton. “Last year she asked me out, but I hurt my neck. I can’t say no twice.”

Venus replied: “I’ve been trying to play with him forever. He plays hard to get.

“It was definitely great at the last minute. [I was] just 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 goes.

“It was fun. For me, that was what I wanted out of it. It was a great experience to play with Venus Williams. When will I get the chance to do that?”

However, it is not always so simple.

For Marta Kostyuk and Lukasz Kubot, the process turned out to be a bit trickier.

“I started going around and asking doubles players ‘Do you want to play mixed here?’ and stuff like that,” said Kostyuk, 20, from Ukraine.

“Most of them were fixed, but Lukasz was training next to me. He probably heard me asking. He was constantly watching, I wasn’t sure what he wanted.

“And then the next day he asked me for my number because he wanted to play mixed.

“I was like, ‘That’s a great idea,’ his protected rating is pretty high, so definitely, come 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 newly formed partnership could team up for their first match on Friday after suffering an ankle injury in their second-round singles match.

Ultimately, Salisbury, who have won two Grand Slam titles in men’s doubles and two in mixed doubles, say the obvious quality to look for in a team-mate is first and foremost a good player.

But beyond that, personality compatibility, on and off the pitch, becomes a huge factor.

“The first thing you look for is who you think is obviously the best,” he said.

“If there are guys who have a similar ranking, then you look at whether you’re going to get along with them – that’s the most important thing.”

In terms of Grand Slam doubles – women’s and mixed – the mixed competition at Wimbledon is one of only two events that five-time singles champion Williams has failed to win.

She said she’s “putting a bit more priority” on the grass-court Grand Slam – where this year’s mixed doubles final will feature more prominently on Thursday night.

Jamie Murray and Venus Williams
Jamie Murray and Venus Williams will face British pair Jonny O’Mara and Alicia Barnett in their second round match on Sunday

This led to his surprise last-minute, trophy-laden partnership with Murray – a combination that is sure to attract attention for as long as their campaign lasts.

For Salisbury, who is aiming for a third Grand Slam men’s doubles title alongside Rajeev Ram, the heightened interest in the game that comes with the foray of household names into doubles is a benefit rather than a distraction for the regulars.

“Certainly, I think it’s [a good thing]. First, to have as much competition as possible,” Salisbury said.

“I think it’s great when singles players play doubles, assuming they’re there to give their all and not just pick up the prize money.

“When the big names in singles are playing it creates more interest and I think a lot of people will watch doubles and actually think they like watching it because obviously the focus is on singles. “

Oh, and what about those secret hand gestures and whispers? Very focused on the next point, sorry to disappoint.