WIMBLEDON, England – Coco Gauff stepped onto the line to serve, eyes focused, shoulders back, ready to go. It was a dangerous moment in her semi-final mixed doubles match here on Wednesday. Breakpoint. Just one game, third set.
Gauff aimed a hard serve at Matthew Ebden, her male opponent, and the bottom line was that it was the perfect representation of what makes Gauff great at 18 and what makes doubles a perennial Wimbledon fan favorite.
Her teammate, Jack Sock, soon entered the fray, handling a difficult volley. Gauff then landed a right hand on her opponent Samantha Stosur. From there and tennis beauty. Hole shots back to back; spinners; touch; strength; all geometry on court no. 3 is researched and Gauff holds more than her own.
The rally finally ended after 24 shots as the crowd swayed, swooned and screamed at the cloud-covered sky, with one of Sok’s spinning forehands finally coaxing a miss.
As I watched from the stands, Gauff seemed to be emphasizing the message she had told me the day before.
“I love doubles,” she said. She smiled and was silent for a moment. “It’s a different kind of game, all reflexes and unorthodox strikes, touch strikes, half-volleys.”
“Playing is a pleasure,” she added.
If your exposure to Grand Slam tennis comes only through television, or even through most media coverage, you might think that only the singles are important. He inhales almost all the oxygen. We know the big names, their shots, their inclinations on the court, their weaknesses off the court. We celebrate the upstarts who always seem to be on their way to new heights.
But with the advent of more powerful racquets and strings, singles are now invariably a groundstroke war, even here at Wimbledon, once the prerogative of pitching and volleying. Doubles remains the hidden gem of tennis, the latest outpost of diversity.
Players like Gauff, famed for her singles play but already runner-up in doubles at two Grand Slams, are finding doubles a relief from the pressure that comes with playing alone. And hooked fans never seem to get tired of watching four pros take to the court and make set after set of new angles and winners created by the pickpocket’s deft touch.
However, there is a paradox. TV shows are duplicated much less frequently and noticeably. The prize money in doubles is lower than in singles (and even less in mixed doubles than in men’s and women’s doubles). I agree that journalists rarely write about it. And so the feedback loop begins: Without additional publicity, this unique part of professional tennis remains niche. As long as it’s a niche, it gets less attention.
Unless it’s a final or a matchup involving the biggest names – Venus or Serena Williams – the Grand Slam doubles tournaments are in the backyard.
Rajeev Ram acknowledged that doubles tends to operate in the shadow of professional tennis. Have you ever heard of him? Unless you’re an avid tennis fan, maybe not. The 38-year-old American ranks first in the world. 2nd place player in men’s doubles, but can walk around the Wimbledon grounds unnoticed. Along with his partner Joe Salisbury, he advanced to the men’s doubles semi-finals here on Wednesday, beating Nicolas Mayut and Édouard Roger-Vasselin in five sets.
Ram uses his pterodactyl wingspan and sampras serve to dominate matches and beat the crowds. According to Ram, once they watch the double films, “the fans really like it.”
Over the past few days I have spent a lot of time in the back zones doing just that. I hung out with the audience and heard their observations. Many told stories of walking around the area not knowing what they would find, only to stumble upon a couples star like Nikola Mektić, the Croatian couples maestro I saw face down when a tennis ball at 80 miles per hour ripped his belly out only to be sent back. a shot that fell on the grass like a marshmallow.
“It’s kind of like a good dessert after the main course,” one fan I spoke to said of the couples prank. “The main dish is singles. I love cake too.”
Other spectators were thrilled that mixed doubles, an event usually only played at major tournaments, offers what remains a novelty in elite sports: men and women compete side by side on the same playing field.
Wimbledon spectators also seemed to be attracted by the joy that Gauff spoke of. During singles matches, players tend to play tighter than tripwire. Doubles offers a relief that even a spectator can notice.
“I’m not used to laughing a lot on the court,” Gauff said. She paused, smiled and continued. “I compete in doubles. I definitely think that I am relaxing and relaxing a little more. So I will try to use it constantly.”
Gauff, who lost her third-round singles match to Amanda Anisimova, is one of the few well-known tennis players to do justice to doubles, enjoying a corner of tennis that allows her to throw new shots “in all different and unusual ways.” ”
She hones her skills in singles and develops new shots and flexibility to take them to doubles, looking to the future and believing that the combination will complete her game to the point that she can finally lift the trophy at the Slam tournament.
Having reached her first Grand Slam singles final at the French Open last month, Gauff was determined to continue playing both singles and doubles at major tournaments (she also reached the women’s doubles final at Roland Garros playing together with Jessica Pegula). There was a problem: she needed a new partner for Wimbledon. Gauff found one in a newfangled way by starting a search on social networks.
“Who wants to play mixed doubles at Wimby?” she is posted on her twitter account June 15th.
This question hardly went unnoticed by Gauf’s 250,000 followers. Dozens are required. Even Michaela Shiffrinworld champion in cross-country skiing, sent a smiley saying she’s ready for it. Gauff noticed one response in particular: “We would be a decent team,” wrote Sok, a four-time Grand Slam doubles winner.
It ended up taking some time for Gauff to think about Sok’s offer. What if she played badly and disgraced herself with such a male master? “I almost told him no,” she said. Finally, “I thought, ‘Get out of your head, play with Jack!'”
The first results proved that this was a wise decision. Gauff and Sok went undefeated in their first three matches. This was followed by a semi-final on Wednesday against veteran Australian pair Ebden and Stosur.
She played smart, showed no mercy, served and batted well, volleyed confidently as the third set went on, and the pressure mounted. Two games apiece. Three games. Four.
But with Gauff’s serve, 6-5, it was Sok who landed a light volley into the net. Then another. Stosur and Ebden took advantage, interrupting the feed and taking the lead. They quickly closed the match, 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Gauff left the court with a determined look, comforted by the crowd, who cheered loudly, thanking both teams for a match filled with tension and spectacle.