Mixed doubles tennis has its time at the Olympics


TOKYO (AP) – Novak Djokovic let out a cry as if he had just won one of his 20 Grand Slam singles titles.

Turning to the somewhat less glamorous mixed doubles competition at the Tokyo Olympics, Serbian partner Nina Stojanovic burst out laughing at Djokovic’s overreaction after serving a first round victory over Brazilian pair Luisa Stefani and Marcelo Melo.

The contrast of personalities proved to be a winning formula in Djokovic’s first competitive mixed doubles tournament in 15 years.

The Serbs won their first two matches in straight sets before losing to Russia’s Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev in the semi-finals. Then they had to withdraw from the bronze medal game when Djokovic injured his left shoulder in a pair of singles losses..

“I’m learning that she’s very easy going on the pitch,” said Djokovic. “We are balancing ourselves. “

Stojanovic, who reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open and the quarter-finals at Wimbledon in women’s doubles this year, called sharing the court with Djokovic “inspiring”.

“I’m just trying to be in the same range as him on the pitch – at least with the energy,” Stojanovic said.

With Olympic medals on the line, there was some serious star power in the 16-team mixed doubles tournament at Ariake Tennis Park.

Most notably, the highest ranked players in men’s and women’s singles entered: Djokovic and Ash Barty.

Barty and his Australian partner John Peers, who are good family friends, won the bronze medal with a forfeit due to Djokovic’s injury.

In an all-Russian final on Sunday, Vesnina and Karatsev will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev.

Barty and Peers beat top Greek duo Stefanos Tsitsipas and Maria Sakkari of Greece in the quarter-finals.

Tstitsipas (No.4) and Rublev (No.7) are also both ranked in the top 10 in singles.

As mixed events now become the norm at the Olympics with competitions featuring both sexes in swimming, track and field, archery, judo, shooting, table tennis and triathlon introduced at these Games, mixed doubles tennis has a history of the Games that goes back to the beginning. of the previous century.

Charlotte Cooper and Reginald Doherty of Great Britain won the first gold in mixed doubles at the 1900 Games in Paris, Cooper also winning in singles to become the first woman to win an individual gold at the Olympics , whatever the sport.

The great Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen won the mix with Max Decugis at the 1920 Games in Antwerp.

Mixed was also played at the 1912 and 1924 Olympics before returning in 2012.

“I would like him to be promoted further. It says a lot about some of the equality issues we face in today’s world, ”said Rajeev Ram, the American who won silver with Venus Williams in 2016.“ The other thing is that I think a lot of recreational players play it a lot, so people who potentially watch tennis can relate to it.

These days, mixed doubles is played almost exclusively in the four Grand Slam tournaments.

In 2016, Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Jack Sock won an all-American Olympic final against Williams and Ram.

This time, Mattek-Sands teamed up with Ram, a childhood friend from Wisconsin. They lost in the first round.

There was a time when the main tactic in mixed race was to attack the woman. Not anymore, or at least more when the woman is a doubles specialist – like Mattek-Sands, who in addition to Olympic gold has won nine Grand Slam titles between the women’s doubles and the mixed.

“If they want to take it out on me I’m super excited because I want someone to take it out on me at the net,” said Mattek-Sands. “I love it.”

A bigger issue might be how men sometimes find it difficult to return services from women, who arrive at a different pace and from a different angle than they are used to.

“The girls have really good sliders and it’s a different ball than what we often see,” said Ram, who won the mixed title at this year’s Australian Open with Barbora Krejcikova. “There are two parts: one is the different ball and the other is the guy’s at the net which is causing problems. So if you can handle this game, you are generally doing quite well.

For some teams, however, the tactic is an afterthought.

“There was no strategy; there was just a positivity on the pitch, ”Stojanovic said. “We clicked from the start and it was just amazing to share the pitch with Novak.”

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Associated Press reporter Syd Fryer contributed to this report.

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Andrew Dampf is at https://twitter.com/AndrewDampf

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More AP: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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