The first Saturday or middle Saturday as they call it at Wimbledon is usually when the “real” tournament begins as on the singles side some of the top seeds start to face each other before the quarterfinals. But probably the real treat, and especially for those fans who can’t get tickets to the main stages of Centre Court and Court No.1, is the start of both doubles and even mixed doubles that allows everyone a chance to watch their favorite players along with former champions and rising stars. Doubles provides compelling storylines and characters of their own that unfortunately get overshadowed by the dominant singles tour but, more than that, it provides the game a much needed curiosity factor as fans are able to peek over the fence so to speak and get up close with the players.
Sometimes it’s the doubles pairings themselves that provide intrigue. Like how or why did Caroline Wozniacki decide to pair up with India’s Sania Mirza, a player who’s earned more headlines for her recent marriage than her tennis game? Or it’s a matchup of four well-known singles players that provides fans with a “double bonus” of being able to see big names all at once. That was certainly the case with the morning matchup of Sam Stosur and Nadia Petrova taken on the unlikely pairing of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Aravane Rezai. Despite a close second set, most of the match highlights revolved around the interaction of all four players as missed shots and unexpected hits taken by all players resulted in a good natured exchange during the handshake at net of Kuznetsova gently pushing Stosur away as if to say, “hey man, don’t try that again.” Despite the good natured fun, Stosur and Petrova, a relatively new combo that’s had some success early this year, definitely showed that they could be one of the few teams with a shot of stopping Serena and Venus Williams should they meet up in the finals.
In mixed doubles, it was a delight to see Lindsay Davenport back in action again on the grass as she paired up with Bob Bryan. Davenport, who retired from singles to raise a family, has decided to try some doubles again this summer. The former No. 1 showed she can still strike the ball as well as anyone and you wondered if she got back on the singles tour how much damage she could still do. Meanwhile many fans checked out the final, and probably merciful end to Nicolas Mahut’s 2010 Wimbledon as he was able to finally finish his doubles match with Arnaud Clement that was suspended several times due to darkness and played for a few days on Court 18 before somebody at the All-England Club had the good sense to move it over to another court so not to inflict more insult to injury to the Frenchman. Despite losing to a talented British team of Colin Fleming and Kenneth Skupski, I had a feeling most of the fans watching this one just wanted a glimpse of “that French guy that lost in that match”.
But probably why most fans enjoy watching doubles up close was summed up by the always eloquent Virginia Wade who said doubles allowed players, especially those like Wozniacki, to play “old fashioned tennis” with the use of such tactics as chipping and charging, sliced returns and, dare I say it, strategy that doesn’t involve trying to bludgeon the ball to death. Singles, and all the tension of rankings and the fight to prove who is the world’s best has its compelling drama, but it’s nice to take a break and watch the game being played on courts where shadows, not from stadium lights, but from nearby trees cause players to focus on their service returns in the late afternoon and where match points are earned not by body blows but instead by a clever flick of a racquet that spins the ball over the net and out of reach of your opponent who’s only a foot away from you and the next round.