Dream mixed doubles pairs at London Games
Conceptually, it's hard not to get a kick out of mixed doubles. It's always fun to attempt to read into the pairings at Grand Slam tournaments ("how does he even know her?"). And it's amusing to watch as the guys fly around the court trying to dominate the match and "protect" the women, who, more often than not, more than hold their own against the men.
But the top men and women rarely play mixed doubles at majors. So, outside of the Hopman Cup, an annual country-based exhibition held in January, fans seldom get to see some marquee pairings that could make mixes doubles a can't-miss event.
Will that change at the 2012 London Games? We've already heard plenty of speculation about a potential pairing of Roger Federer and Martina Hingis, among other possible big-name partnerships. Here's our wish list of five mixed double teams that would add intrigue, drama and, most important, entertainment value to the Summer Olympics. Sure, most of them won't/can't happen, but we can dream.
1. Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)
They're fun, lively, good at tennis and easy on the eyes. What more could you want from a mixed doubles team? The childhood buddies grew up playing with Ken and Barbie (they've known each other since they were 4 years old), and 20 years later they've grown up to be Ken and Barbie (of Serbia, anyway). Their chemistry and familiarity translate on court, as Djokovic's presence seems to relax Ivanovic, allowing her to move and hit more freely. The pair first teamed up at Hopman Cup in 2006 when they were rising stars, and returned in 2011 as the hot-ticket team.
Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we'll see them on the court together in London. Djokovic will likely focus on singles and Ivanovic has already committed to play with doubles specialist Nenad Zimonjic. (In Beijing this week, Ivanovic indicated that she might be skipping women's doubles.)
Here's a glimpse of their most recent pairing, at the Hopman Cup:
2. Andy Roddick and Serena Williams (United States)
This is a pairing that actually has some potential. The two friends tweeted that they planned to play mixed doubles in Australia next year, and combining their serves into a unified force of destruction gives them more than an outside chance at success.
Of course, the big question is whether any umpires will agree to work their matches. Perhaps the ITF should offer some hazard pay to sweeten the pot?
We couldn't find any video of the duo playing mixed together, but here's a clip of some playful ribbing between the two:
3. Andy Murray and Laura Robson (Great Britain)
Both can be intense, and their self-deprecating verbal abuse during singles matches can make you blush. But put Murray and Robson on a court together and they seem to mellow out a bit and actually play some fine tennis. Theirs is an amusing sibling-type chemistry, with Robson playing the unapologetically precocious teenager to Murray's older, wiser (at least he thinks so) brother.
Despite her youth, the 17-year-old Robson and Murray have already teamed up twice in mixed doubles at Hopman Cup, making the finals in 2010. They both seem to find the other a bit ridiculous (Murray playfully complained about Robson's insisting that they color-coordinate their kits), but that's what makes their partnership fun and successful. Murray has no problem giving the teenager a hard time and Robson has never appeared intimidated playing alongside Britain's No. 1.
Whether the pairing will or can happen in London is unsettled. You couldn't blame Murray for wanting to focus on his singles and doubles (where he'll surely team with his older brother, Jamie), and Robson will have to get her singles ranking up to even be eligible to play.
Here's a clip of their 2010 Hopman Cup final against Team Spain:
4. Roger Federer and Mirka Vavrinec (Switzerland)
This pairing would hit the mixed doubles trifecta: They're a couple, they're married and they have kids. If the option of bringing players out of retirement for London is on the table, then why not cajole "Mommy Mirka" to take the court with her hubby? It would be a lovely bit of nostalgia for the couple, who first met at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and played mixed doubles together at the Hopman Cup in 2002. Sure, Mirka would have to put her BlackBerry down for a couple of hours each day, but it's a small price to pay for the opportunity for Charlene and Myla to see mom and dad on a tennis court.
Besides, if this was Federer's celebration with Stanislas Wawrinka at the last Olympics, imagine what it would be like with Mirka?
Here's some vintage footage of the couple playing against Lleyton Hewitt and Alicia Molik in 2002:
5. Marat Safin and anyone carrying a Russian passport (Russia)
Any excuse to pull Safin out of retirement works for me. Let's just pause for a moment and imagine the possibilities here: Safin and the "doubles-challenged" (I'm putting it mildly) Maria Sharapova? Safin and his buddy Svetlana Kuznetsova? How about teaming up with fellow Russian racket-breaker Vera Zvonareva? The scenarios are endless and filled with hilarity.
And Marat. They are also filled with Marat. And, really, that's all that matters.
Here's a clip of his memorable 2009 Hopman Cup appearance alongside his sister, Dinara Safina: