Wimbledon: The 'brutal' world of doubles tennis

By Harry PooleBBC Sport at Wimbledon
Venus Williams and Jamie Murray
American Venus Williams, a five-time singles champion, is making an unexpected appearance at the All England Club 11 months after she last played a match
Wimbledon 2022 on the BBC
Venue: All England Club Dates: 27 June-10 July
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Venus Williams and Jamie Murray took their first step as a pairing into the "brutal world" of doubles tennis with an opening victory in the mixed event at Wimbledon.

It's a game of whispers, secret hand gestures, tracking down a suitable team-mate - and sometimes quite awkward break-ups.

Just ask German Tamara Korpatsch, who was left "sad, disappointed and also very angry" after proposed partner Harmony Tan pulled out last-minute following her singles win over American great Serena Williams.

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

It's the sort of uncomfortable situation that men's world number one doubles player Joe Salisbury knows all about.

"I have had some bad experiences," said the Briton. "I've definitely had partners where it just hasn't worked out personality wise.

"I used to think it wasn't that big of a deal because you can just focus on the 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 on well with the person," he added.

"The doubles world can be pretty brutal. If you're not in a long-term partnership, someone else could come along and a player will think 'they're better, so I'll ditch my current partner'.

"But that's just the way it is, really."

Wildcards Murray and Williams, who in all boast 23 Grand Slam doubles titles between them, overcame Michael Venus and Alicja Rosolska 6-3 6-7 (3-7) 6-3 in their first-round match.

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

The 42-year-old American had not 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 with Australian Nick Kyrgios at Wimbledon for one match before the Australian 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 the coach of Williams typing a few words.

"Venus' coach texted me asking me if I wanted to play," said the Briton, 36. "Last year she asked me, but I hurt my neck. I can't say no twice."

Venus responded: "I've been trying to play with him forever. He plays hard to get.

"It was definitely super last minute. [I was] just inspired by Serena. Like I said, it was amazing. I just was so happy to have so much help today."

Murray added: "Mixed doubles can be awkward as well, how it kind of plays out.

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

However, it's not always that simple.

For Marta Kostyuk and Lukasz Kubot, the process proved a little more awkward.

"I started going around and asking doubles players 'Do you guys want to play mixed here?' and stuff like this," said Ukrainian 20-year-old Kostyuk.

"Most of them were set but then Lukasz was practising next to me. He probably overheard me asking. He was constantly looking, I was not sure what he wanted.

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

"I was like, 'this is a great idea', his protected ranking is pretty high, so definitely, get in. I was like, 'Why not?' Especially like 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 assembled partnership could team up for their first match on Friday after suffering an ankle injury in her 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 search for in a team-mate is, first and foremost, a good player.

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

"The first thing you're looking for is who you think is the best obviously," he said.

"If there are guys who are are similar ranking, then you look at if you're going to get on with them well - 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 that five-time singles champion Williams has failed to win.

She said she subsequently "puts a little more of a priority" on the grass Slam - where this year the mixed doubles final will hold a more prominent slot on Thursday night.

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

It has led to her surprise last-minute trophy-laden partnership with Murray - a combination which is sure to draw keen attention for as long as their campaign should last.

For Salisbury, who is chasing a third Grand Slam men's doubles title alongside Rajeev Ram, the increased interest in the game that accompanies the foray of household names into doubles is a positive, rather than a distraction, for the regulars.

"Definitely, I think it is [a good thing]. Firstly to have the competition as strong as possible," Salisbury said.

"I think it's great when singles players play in the doubles, assuming they're in it to give their full effort and not just to pick up the prize money cheque.

"When the 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 it, because obviously so much of the focus is on the singles."

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

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