The first silverware of this year’s Wimbledon was handed out on Thursday night, Britain’s Neal Skupski and American Desirae Krawczyk winning the mixed doubles title with a 6-4, 6-3 win over the Australians Matt Ebden and Sam Stosur. It was the first time that the mixed doubles final has been played on a Thursday evening, moved from its usual slot after the men’s singles final on Sunday.
In part, the move was to try to avoid the half-empty stadiums seen in many years and to give the mixed doubles a unique slot of its own. It also offered fans at Wimbledon on Thursday, traditionally a day when a ticket to Centre Court has two women’s singles semi-finals, an extra match, added entertainment and value for money. “Thanks for coming out to watch,” Krawczyk said.
The mixed doubles has always been popular with fans at Wimbledon; for those who play tennis recreationally, it’s the form of the game they probably play the most. On a warm evening, last year’s champions, Skupski and Krawczyk, became the first pair to win the title two years in a row since Cyril Suk and Helena Sukova in 1996 and 1997.
In a sport that rightly celebrates the exploits of its singles champions, it is often forgotten that there is an awful lot going on at Wimbledon. In addition to the two women’s singles semi-finals on Thursday, there were 13 other events on show, from the men’s and women’s doubles, junior singles and doubles events, to wheelchair singles and even the invitational events, which feature many former champions. Even allowing for the fact that the Centre Court crowd was treated to an extra match, including the trick shot king, Mansour Bahrami, a grounds pass ticket, which allows access to everywhere except the show courts, was just £20, one-tenth of the price of a ticket to Centre Court itself.
There was plenty of drama away from Centre Court, nowhere more so than on Court No 1, where the No 1 seeds in the men’s doubles, Britain’s Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram of the United States, squandered five match points in the third set against Ebden and his fellow Australian Max Purcell. At 6-4 in the third-set tie-break the match looked over but both match points came and went and then three more as the Aussies snatched the set. The disappointment was clearly too much to take and the No 14 seeds eased through the final two sets to clinch victory.
The wheelchair events were confined to Court No 14 and No 17, which seemed a little strange given the hordes of fans trying to get in to see them. Spectators were crammed around Court No 14 to try to get a glimpse of two of Britain’s most famous wheelchair players, Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, with Hewett emerging the winner 6-2, 3-6, 6-4, to move into the semi-finals.
Hewett and Reid will be friends again when they pair up in doubles in search of what would be a remarkable 11th straight grand slam doubles title. Hewett said fans coming to Wimbledon can enjoy much more than just singles. “I think that’s why we’re here,” he said. “We’re not here just to fill a spot. We’re here to bring out the different categories, whether it’s juniors … these are young kids in their early days who could potentially move on to become superstars in tennis.
“It’s appreciating what they do, appreciating what we do – we’re not hitting serves 120 miles an hour but we’re pushing a chair around with a racket in our hands, it’s pretty cool. Even the exhibition stuff, they’re funny, it brings something to the sport, to Wimbledon, there’s a purpose behind all of them.”
The former singles champions Martina Hingis and Goran Ivanisevic, the Bryan brothers and the former world No 1 Kim Clijsters are among those back playing in the invitational doubles events, another thing popular with fans, eager to see some of their heroes from yesteryear.
Hewett said he thought wheelchair tennis should be put on some of the bigger courts. “When I came out yesterday I expected it because I think they’re very set, this is their schedule,” he said, of Wimbledon. “I think they’ve probably planned it months in advance, it doesn’t really matter who’s playing. I think they go: ‘Right, wheelchair draw is going to be 14 and 17, all round one matches,’ whereas actually I think there needs to be a little more consideration – two Brits, people want to come and watch.”