When Horia Tecau of Romania and Bethanie Mattek-Sands of Saturn (yes, she's that far out there—and in a good way!) won the mixed doubles at the Australian Open, Tecau was so stunned and happy that he didn't want to leave the court. "I was thinking, 'Security is going to have to drag him off,"Mattek-Sands remarked in their presser. "He was, like, 'I'm just gonna stay here. . .'"
Eventually, though, Tecau did reluctantly depart. After all, he had a flight booked for just a few hours later, and the journeymen and doubles specialists have to keep those change fees and other expenses down if they wish to continue following their bliss.
You know how it is in tennis: the doubles game conspicuously plays second-fiddle to singles, and mixed doubles inconspicuously adds largely unheard notes at third fiddle. But still. How many people do you know who can legitimately claim to be a Grand Slam champion? The result goes into the history books (and you'd be surprised at how often it pops up among those who really care); the names go on the trophy, or the honor roll, or maybe just the wall of the stadium. You win a title, you leave a mark.
Winning anything is a fine achievement, and only those who have never or will never accomplish anything would pooh-pooh it. And winning is the entire point of tennis. Mattek-Sands and Tecau have earned a place among those we call "champions," and their joy at arriving there was unqualified.
The team, seeded eighth, won the title over the No. 5 seeds, Russian veteran Elena Vesnina and India's doubles genius, Leander Paes. The scores were 6-3, 7-5, 10-3 (match tiebreaker). It was an upset, and a quality win.
I don't care what event you're playing—this was a Grand Slam final, and that always means pressure. A tennis player dreams of winning Grand Slam titles from about the first day he or she swings a racquet. And a tennis player would rather win a Grand Slam final than lose one, because it will be more fun for the rest of her life to say, "I won a Grand Slam title" than, "I got to a Grand Slam final but I lost." And if you want to get all crass about it, these tennis players knew that the winning team gets to split $135,000.
Those are big numbers to the kinds of players who play mixed. How would you like to have to make a first serve with your share of the pot riding on it? More interestingly, how would you like to have to do that knowing that your partner's share is also riding on your racquet?
I often wish tennis would celebrate its doubles events with as much gusto the singles, but I'm reconciled to the fact that the world doesn't work that way. The players are, too. You can talk about that all you want over a drink or at dinner, but for those who actually get to walk out on those courts, all that stuff tends to fall away, and they're left with the simple reality that winning earns you some money and makes you feel good; losing disappoints you, even if—or especially if—you don't care so much about the money.
When Mattek-Sands and Tecau were asked where this win ranks among their "achievements," and if the experience was "top of the line," Tecau lost no time replying:
"Yes, it's a Grand Slam title."
Whereupon Mattek-Sands chimed in, "Yeah. It's a Grand Slam title." She laughed. "Yeah, it's top."
The mixed final was played on the last day of the tournament. The only players left who needed the locker rooms were Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Mattek-Sands, Tecau, Vesnina and Paes. Because all women's events were long done, Tecau, Mattek-Sands and friends were able to celebrate with champagne in the women's locker room.
They had to make it a short party, though. The winners barely had an hour to make the flights they'd booked, and neither of them was about to pay a late fee, despite having almost $70,000 each.