WIMBLEDON, England — Coco Gauff took his turn to serve, eyes focused, shoulders back, ready to go. It was a dangerous moment in their mixed doubles semi-final match here on Wednesday. breaking point. A game, third set.
Gauff aimed a tight serve at Matthew Ebden, her male opponent, and the point was clear: a perfect display of what makes Gauff great at the age of 18 and what makes the doubles an enduring favorite for Wimbledon fans.
Her teammate Jack Sock soon came into play and managed a difficult volley. Gauff then poleaxed her opponent Samantha Stosur with a forehand. From there tennis beauty. back-to-back moonshot lobs; Crackhead; touch; Energy; All of the geometry on Court #3 was explored and Gauff held more than her own.
The rally finally ended after 24 shots as the crowd swayed and fainted and yelled at the cloud speckled sky and finally elicited a miss from a spinning forehand by Socks.
Watching from the stands, it felt like Gauff was underscoring a message she had said to me the day before.
“I love doubles,” she says. She smiled and paused for a moment. “It’s a different kind of game, all the reflexes and unorthodox shots, the callous shots, the half volleys.”
“It’s a pleasure to play,” she added.
When you’re only exposed to tennis grand slam events through television or even most media coverage, you might think that singles are all that matters. It breathes almost all of the oxygen. We know the big names, their shots, their tendencies on the pitch, their weaknesses off the pitch. We celebrate the upstarts who always seem to be marching to new heights.
But with the advent of more powerful racquets and strings, the singles is now invariably a war of pounding groundstrokes, even here at Wimbledon, once the province of the serve and volley. Doubles remains tennis’s hidden gem, the last outpost of diversity.
Players like Gauff, famous for her singles game but already a doubles runner-up in two Grand Slams, find in doubles a relief from the stumbling blocks that come with playing solo. And fans, once hooked, never seem to get enough of watching four pros jam onto a court and, with the deft hand of a pickpocket, create set after set of novel angles and winners.
However, there is a paradox. TV shows are doubled much less frequently and prominently. The prize money is less in doubles than in singles (and even less in mixed doubles than in men’s and women’s doubles). I admit, reporters rarely write about it. This is how a feedback loop begins: Without more attention, this unique part of professional tennis remains a niche. As long as it’s niche, it gets less attention.
Unless it’s a final or a matchup featuring the biggest names – Venus or Serena Williams – Grand Slam doubles are relegated to the bottom places.
Rajeev Ram admitted that the doubles game operates “in the shadow” of professional tennis. Ever heard of him? Unless you’re an avid tennis fan, probably not. The 38-year-old American is number 2 in men’s doubles in the world, but can walk around the Wimbledon grounds unnoticed. Together with his partner Joe Salisbury, he reached the men’s doubles semi-finals here on Wednesday with a five-set win over Nicolas Mahut and Édouard Roger-Vasselin.
Ram uses his pterodactyl wingspan and Sampras-ian serve to dominate games and win crowds. Once they’ve seen doubles, Ram said, “the fans get really excited.”
In the last few days I’ve spent a lot of time in the back seats to do just that. I’ve hung out with viewers and listened to their observations. Many told tales of strolling the grounds, unsure of what they would find, only to stumble upon a double star like Nikola Mektic, a Croatian double maestro whom I saw face down when an 80 mph tennis ball crashed into him got his stomach ripped, only to send him back a drop shot that hit the grass like a marshmallow.
“It’s like a good dessert after the main course,” said one fan I spoke to of the doubles draw. “The main course is singles. I like cake too.”
Other viewers have raved to me that mixed doubles – an event usually only played at majors – offers something that remains a novelty in elite sport: men and women compete side-by-side on the same court.
Wimbledon viewers also seemed drawn to the joy Gauff mentioned. In singles matches, players tend to be tighter than tripwire. Doubles offers a relief that even a spectator can perceive.
“I’m not used to laughing a lot on the pitch,” said Gauff. She paused for a moment, smiled, and then continued. “I drive in doubles. I definitely think I’m loosening up and relaxing a bit more. So I’ll try to use that all the time.”
Gauff, who lost her singles match in the third round to Amanda Anisimova, is one of the few famous players to give doubles its due and revel in a corner of tennis that allows her to hit new shots “on all sorts of different and… unusual ways”. ”
Refining her poise in singles and developing new shots and the flexibility to make them in doubles, thinking long term and believing the combination will round out her game to the point where she finally has a trophy in a slam can win.
After reaching her first Grand Slam singles final at the French Open last month, Gauff was determined to continue playing both singles and doubles at majors (she also reached the women’s doubles final at Roland Garros, where she played alongside Jessica Pegula played). There was a problem: she needed a new partner for Wimbledon. Gauff found one the newfangled way and began her search on social media.
“Who wants to play mixed at Wimby?” she posted on her Twitter account on 15th of June.
The request hardly went unnoticed by Gauff’s 250,000 followers. Dozens wanted in. Even Mikaela Shiffrin, Ski World Champion, sent an emoji said she was ready for it. Gauff particularly noticed one answer: “We would be a decent team,” posted Sock, four-time Grand Slam double winner.
Gauff took a while to reconsider Socks’ offer. What if she played poorly and embarrassed herself with a male player of such skill? “I almost said no to him,” she said. Finally, “I was like, ‘Get out of your head, play with Jack!'”
The first results proved that it was a wise decision. Gauff and Sock did not drop a set in their first three matches. Then came Wednesday’s semi-final against veteran Australian duo Ebden and Stosur.
She played skillfully, giving no quarters, serving and taking revenge well, and volleying with solid confidence as the third set marched on and the pressure mounted. Two games a piece. Three games. Four.
But when Gauff served to make it 6-5, it was Sock who netted an easy volley. Then another. Stosur and Ebden took advantage, breaking serve and going forward. They quickly finished the game 6-3, 5-7, 7-5.
Gauff left the pitch with a determined look, comforted by a crowd who stood to loudly applaud a thank you to both teams for a game of excitement and entertainment.