Andy Murray’s long-awaited return to the grass courts of Wimbledon – after a hip injury ruled him out in 2018 – actually came yesterday evening when he and Pierre-Hugues Herbert came through a four-set contest to make the second round of the Men’s Doubles. However, the match the public have been waiting for since… ooh, the start of the week … is Murray’s appearance in the Mixed Doubles, bringing together a dream team of the former Men’s Singles champion and the seven-times winner of the Women’s title, Serena Williams. Williams has form in this competition, having won it alongside Max Mirnyi in 1998. That was 21 years ago, but her doubles game is strong – she and her sister Venus have won the Women’s Doubles an additional six times.
The golden pairing face a first-round contest against Chile’s Alexa Guarachi and German doubles specialist Andreas Mies. It’s a favourable draw for Williams and Murray, as their opponents are not an experienced partnership either. That said, it’s hard to make cast-iron predictions when Murray has been absent from the tour with an injury so stubborn that it may yet cause his retirement. Doubles is a very different form of tennis from Singles, and although both Murray and Williams have won Olympic medals in other pairings, their on-court chemistry is at this stage an unknown quantity.
Star power to carry the favourites through?
Across doubles and singles, the Williams-Murray partnership has won 42 Grand Slam titles and an additional six Olympic gold medals between them. Granted, those 48 crowns are split somewhat unequally, Williams owning 43 of them. However, it’s 48 more career titles than the partnership facing them today, so it’s justifiable that the Scottish-American pair are favourites with the bookmakers – 888 have them priced at ⅕, which is probably fair. That said, just because Andy Murray is an excellent tennis player, and Serena Williams perhaps the best the world has ever seen, that doesn’t guarantee they’ll be a great doubles partnership.
In analysing this contest, it has to be considered that Murray and Williams will generate a lot of attention, and the pressure that comes with that. Mies and Guarachi, for their part, are in the position of knowing that even plenty of tennis fans won’t have known who they were until this week. Whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage for them remains to be seen. It does, however, probably help their opponents that a Friday evening crowd in SW19 is likely to be extremely partisan, in many cases just happy to see Murray swinging a racquet again. An upset can’t be ruled out, but it is very unlikely here.
Fitness the unknown quantity?
There is a reason that Murray, who won the Men’s Singles title here in 2016 before going on to win a second consecutive Olympic gold, is not competing with Djokovic, Federer and Nadal in the singles. A hip injury that has proven resistant to rest, surgery, and rehab threatened to end his career. To this day, it is not known whether he will ever play singles tennis again. Five sets of having to cover the entire court himself might be too much for his body. Williams has, this season, had her own issues with injury. Less serious than Murray’s they undoubtedly have been, but early exits at the Australian and French Opens – and a bout of post-partum depression last year – attest to a path that has not been smooth.
We also don’t yet know how four sets on Thursday evening will affect Murray on the Friday. Alongside Herbert, Murray dropped the first set against Copil and Humbert, and there are no guarantees that the Scot won’t need to ease himself in here. It’s far from unthinkable that an untested and injury-wary pair could lose a set before winning 2-1. In the match score market at Coral, you can get 15/4 on that exact outcome – and it’s hard to see Murray and Williams being unhappy with any kind of win in their doubles debut.
Murray and Williams to find their groove gradually
When all is said and done, even Guarachi and Mies will find it hard to convince themselves that they can spoil the occasion for Murray, Williams and the crowd on whichever court this match finds its way onto (unconfirmed at the time of writing). With a collective thirty-five year history as Wimbledon veterans, there probably isn’t an inch of SW19 with which the senior pairing is not familiar, and they have an inveterate knowledge of how to win here. Circumstances dictate that the favourites may need to ease their way in, but the more points they play the more confident they are liable to become.
That means that if Mies and Guarachi are to test their more vaunted opponents, it is likely to come early on where their energy levels are likely to be higher and give them more opportunities. At Paddy Power, with a 2.5 game handicap, the underdogs are 8/15 to “win” the first set. That means even if Williams and Murray take it 6-4 or 7-5 – or in a tiebreak – the bet would be a winner. As the veterans find their footing, they may well run away with this match, but there’s plenty of logic in backing the pair with thirteen fewer years and less of an injury toll in their bodies to make it tough for them early on.