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Wimbledon reminds us why sport must wake up to the potency of mixed events

Charlie Eccleshare
The mixed doubles pairing of Andy Murray and Serena Williams delighted Wimbledon this year - PA

With Wimbledon over for another year, it's time to think about what the abiding memories will be.  

The single greatest moment for me was Serena Williams whacking Fabrice Martin’s 138mph serve away for a clean winner. The instinctive laughter she shared afterwards with Martin, her partner Andy Murray and the Centre Court summed up the absurdity of it all. 

That said, the funniest moment of the tournament came elsewhere when Jelena Ostapenko hit her doubles partner Robert Lindstedt not once, but twice with errant serves. 

As for the Brits, the most uplifting story was the quarter-final run of rank outsiders Evan Hoyt and Eden Silva

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed a common denominator among these: they all come from the mixed-doubles event. And in a year that began with Roger Federer and Williams sharing a court - and a selfie - at the Hopman Cup, it appears that the format is enjoying something of a renaissance. 

Fellow GOATs Williams and Roger Federer share a selfie at the Hopman Cup in January  Credit: Getty Images 

For a while now, mixed doubles has been viewed as tennis’s poor relation - a glorified hit and giggle for those players not quite in the elite. But “SerAndy” - or was it “MurRena”? - and the way they thrilled Wimbledon might be about to change all that. 

Mixed doubles is powerful for a number of reasons - chief among them is its relatability. Many tennis casuals have played the format, and have all been Ostapenko - and Lindstedt - at one time or another. As Williams said during Wimbledon: “It's definitely something that I see in my community all the time in Florida. So many people playing mixed doubles. It's super fun.”

Then there is the empowerment of seeing a female player like Williams absolutely destroying the bullet serve of a 6ft 6in man. Tennis is still rife with sexism, and watching Williams obliterate poor Martin felt like a powerful rejoinder to John McEnroe's claim that she would be ranked “like, 700” on the men’s tour.  

At a time when sport and society yearn for equality, what could be more powerful than giving men and women equal billing? Bruno Soares, who along with Nicole Melichar eventually ended the SerAndy dream, said last week: “Everyone talks about equal rights and I think bringing men and women together on the court is something special for today’s world.”

The players themselves also develop from the experience, with a huge mental health benefit to taking part in a less pressurised version of the sport. Take the normally angst-ridden Nick Kyrgios, who said after teaming up with Desirae Krawczyk: "I had a lot of fun. I definitely wanted to play mixed this year."

For mixed doubles to take off though it needs greater exposure - at present it is only played at the grand slams and the Olympics. Up until this year it had also been the star attraction of the much-loved Hopman Cup, but the event will be scrapped in 2020 to make way for the inaugural men's only ATP Cup (which takes place a whole six weeks after the Davis Cup, another men's only international team event). 

It is hoped that the dismay at the Hopman Cup's demise and the success of Wimbledon's mixed doubles will force tennis's governing bodies to sit up and take notice. There was at least discussion last week of tournaments like the Miami Open and Indian Wells launching mixed tournaments, and the new owner of the Washington Citi Open Mark Ein told the New York Times it is an avenue he "would love" to explore. 

In the more immediate term, Sunday will see the Zverev brothers Alexander and Mischa kicking off the Hamburg Open with a mixed doubles exhibition alongside former top-10 players Iva Majoli and Barbara Schett. It will most likely be the most entertaining match of the tournament. 

Perhaps the best way to appreciate mixed doubles' appeal would be to imagine the sorts of conversations that have been taking place in tennis boardrooms for the last decade: We need something fun, but with a competitive edge; something accessible but that isn't dumbing down; something that can get as many of the game's stars onto the court at the same time. 

It appears the answer has been staring them in the face.