If Serena Williams had any concern about getting in some extra match play to help her cause at Wimbledon, she definitely addressed that on Tuesday.
After a three-set battle in the women’s singles quarterfinals earlier on Center Court, the seven-time champion still had work to do on the hallowed turf with partner Andy Murray, as the future Hall of Famers tended to their second-round mixed doubles match.
Could this be just the start of a mixed-doubles run for the dynamic duo—beyond Wimbledon?
"I don't know about that," Murray said with a smile. "I mean, obviously it's possible, but it's been fun being on the court with Serena so far. We've played some good stuff."
Atawo and Martin are both Top 40 doubles standouts on their respective tours: Martin is in the midst of his best season, with two titles and a French Open final with Jeremy Chardy under his belt, while Atawo has won 18 tournaments over the course of her career and is a former Wimbledon doubles semifinalist. The pair also developed a familiarity with each other’s games over the past couple of years through World Team Tennis, where they compete for the Philadelphia Freedoms.
On the other side, Murray and Williams’ opening-round match at Wimbledon was their first official time taking the court together, and both of them have played doubles sporadically over the years. That’s not to say they’re lacking in that discipline: Murray’s return to the tour, post-hip surgery, started with a doubles title in Queen’s Club; Williams’ first-ever Grand Slam title came at Wimbledon more than 20 years ago, when she and Max Mirnyi claimed the mixed doubles crown.
From the start, it appeared that both teams were evenly matched, with neither pairing able to gain much ground on the other’s serve. In the eighth game, serving at 3-4, Atawo repeatedly came under fire, as she faced multiple break points. Murray and Williams were unable to capitalize, though, as the doubles specialists switched to an I-formation that maximized Martin’s ability to cover the net.
After a series of holds, it came back to Atawo to force a tiebreak. However, Williams played a near-perfect return game, and on set point, ripped a short angle passing shot out of Martin’s reach to give her and Murray the opener.
In the second set, after a hold by Murray, Martin was broken for the first time, and Williams and Murray were able to consolidate the break to take a 4-1 lead. Serving for the match at 5-3, Murray spun a serve out wide at 40-15 past Martin to send him and Williams through.
The relatively stress-free nature of the match made for some entertaining moments for the fans and the athletes.
"There were a few jokes out there tonight," said Murray. "We can't say them in here, unfortunately."
"Serena was the one making me laugh today out there," Murray continued. "I think today felt a bit more relaxed probably than the first match because we don't know each other extremely well. I think there's a lot of talk about us playing, then once we got on the court, we wanted to do well. I think today, chatted a bit more, probably a bit more relaxed than the first round, I'd say."
Though the match was over in straight sets, this was a tight contest as many of the games went to deuce multiple times. In the end, though, it was Murray and Williams—with nine Wimbledon singles titles between them—who came through in the clutch moments.
Afterward, Williams was asked if the appeal of men and women playing together could lead to a resurgence in mixed doubles.
"It's hard to say. It's so hard because of the schedule. The players are just tryingto do so well in the singles," said Williams. "It just kind of worked out for me in particular because I was literally looking for some match play. So was Andy. It just kind of worked out.
"I think it's a great thing for the fans and for sport. But at the end of the day so many of us are obviously focused on doing the best that we can in singles."
Next up for the pair are the top seeds, Nicole Melichar and Bruno Soares. Melichar reached the final in women’s doubles last year and is coming off a tight loss in the quarterfinals in that discipline. Soares is someone Murray has a certain degree of familiarity with, as the Brazilian teamed up with his older brother Jamie for several years, winning two men’s Grand Slam doubles titles over the course of their partnership.
The road ahead won’t get any easier, but if they continue to play like they did today, Williams and Murray have to like their chances against any other duo in the draw.