This article, written by Annabel Croft, first appeared in the Times Newspaper 5th July 2019
When I played mixed doubles in the 1980s, the arranging of a partner was often a bit last-minute and very casual. Often I was on a bus from the tournament courts back to the hotel and some bloke would come up and ask me to play mixed doubles. Sometimes, the pairs would reflect whoever fancied each other. I remember John McEnroe playing with Stacy Margolin, and Jimmy Connors with Chris Evert.
In those days, the mixed doubles was not taken too seriously. It was more a bit of fun. At the 1983 US Open, I played with Andres Gomez, of Ecuador, with whom I had a close rapport. We used to speak a lot on the phone and he asked to play mixed doubles. In the end, we played on the main stadium court. Despite suffering a defeat, it was great fun.
I played mixed doubles at five grand slam tournaments with Owen Davidson, my former coach with Australia. He was a terrific doubles player, and won the calendar grand slam in mixed doubles in 1967, teaming up with Billie Jean King to win titles at the French Championships, Wimbledon and the US Championships, and the Australian Championships with Lesley Turner Bowrey. He was in his 40s when I played with him, so we had no chance of winning titles, but he was trying to teach me about doubles.
Mixed doubles was played with much friendliness back then. It was often played in very good spirits. I can recall there being a lot of chatter between the players on the court, and some of the male players would slightly reduce the speed of their first serves.
My record in mixed events was actually quite poor, winning just one of 10 matches throughout my career. I look back with regret that I did not focus a bit more on doubles, and wish I paid more attention to it. I did not want to detract from my singles commitments, Now, I realise that was a mistake.
There are several players who have transferred their doubles skills to the singles court with success, Ashleigh Barty, the world No 1 from Australia, being the most recent example. You can learn so much from doubles in terms of serving, volleying and returning. Doubles champions are used to playing on the show courts and they experience the pressure that comes during the big moments of a match.
Nowadays, there is a different feel to the mixed doubles. While there is still an element of fun, and even romance occasionally, I think the doubles experts who enter treat it far more seriously as an opportunity to win a grand slam title.
I have no doubt that Andy Murray is fully intent on winning the mixed doubles with Serena Williams. This is of course a novelty pairing in some ways, but it was quite clear to me early on that Murray was eager to find a partner who can play doubles to a high standard. Williams has won 16 grand slam doubles titles in addition to her 23 singles majors.
Murray and Williams can go all the way. It is hard to recall a team made up of two better returners. Williams has hit the fastest serve in the women’s singles so far at 122mph, which many male players would be happy with. Murray’s hand skills at the net are so impressive, and an area in which even a great like Williams could learn from.
Chemistry is key. Partners should not feel like they are letting the other down, and must stay positive. It will be intriguing to see whether Murray or Williams will lead the way in making tactical decisions on the court. Who is going to be the boss?
As fun as it is, mixed doubles can also be brutal at times. I was disappointed to hear of Jay Clarke dumping Harriet Dart, with whom he reached the semi-finals here last year, for Cori Gauff, the 15-year-old sensation. I can understand the conundrum that Clarke faced, but the way in which he left Dart with no partner to play with is reminiscent of Love Island.