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“I think it will be a bit of fun,” Nick Kyrgios said of the prospect of playing mixed doubles with Venus Williams at Wimbledon. “I think we’re a bit of a danger pair as well if we serve well. The crowd will definitely get behind us.”

So far, Kyrgios is right on all counts. The Nick and Venus show proved to be a hit on Friday. Other than an audible obscenity or two from Kyrgios, it was all smiles from the players and fans inside a nearly full No. 2 Court. And while they may or may not be a danger to win the event, the Aussie and the American did pull this match out in suitably entertaining style, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, over Austin Krajicek and Sabrina Santamaria.

Kyrgios said “Come on, V!” when he urged her to move in and take a shot, and “Sorry V” when he nearly drilled her with an overhead on one point and a return on another. He also gave us an extended glimpse of the racquet skills and natural tennis instincts that he has kept under wraps for the last five months. The 41-year-old Venus—who is a 16-time Grand Slam doubles champion—held her own with her younger court mates, and saved a crucial break point with a topspin lob winner. According to Kyrgios, though, once he was on the court, it became more than just a “bit of fun.”

“I just wanted to, not put on a good showing or anything, I really wanted to win,” Kyrgios said. “Like, I’ve never really wanted to win a mixed doubles or a doubles match that much before. I was really trying hard.”

Kyrgios and Venus first-bumped, cracked up on changeovers, and ended in a winning embrace. Yet it was the 5’2”, 28-year-old Santamaria who almost stole the show. The American returned even the hardest balls hit at her—redirecting them deftly—and played the whole match with a smile on her face. This is one of the side benefits of putting two stars together on a doubles court: The fans who come out may discover another player they like to watch. They may also discover that you don’t have to be a star to be an entertaining tennis player.

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Mixed doubles remains the most underutilized format in tennis. Only tennis has the opportunity to bring its male and female stars together on the same court, but it rarely happens. Only tennis has the opportunity to showcase an entirely different side of those star players’ personalities. Venus plays singles with the utmost seriousness; in mixed today, she expressed everything she was feeling. Kyrgios often seems like he’d rather be anywhere else when he plays singles; in mixed, with a partner to lean on and commiserate with, he played with the upbeat energy and whirling athleticism that most fans wish they could see more of from him.

“I was like getting so mad at like past points, things that were a bit unlucky,” Kyrgios said, “and she was, like, I don’t even remember that. She has such a fast memory. I think that's one thing I actually have to take from her. When a point is done, she completely moves on.”

The atmosphere of a mixed match combines the friendliness of an exhibition with the seriousness of a Slam. Everyone wanted to win today, and no one more than Kyrgios, who played his best, most aggressive tennis in the final set.

Like, I’ve never really wanted to win a mixed doubles or a doubles match that much before. I was really trying hard. Nick Kyrgios

But there’s also room for laughter. Seeing him play that way reminded me of some of the observations he made about the state of tennis earlier this week.

“You have players now that I love watching, like Bublik, you’ve got Tiafoe. You’ve got these guys who are not conforming,” Kyrgios said. “They’re making the sport awesome. I feel like tennis has to get behind these players. Once Djokovic, Federer, Nadal all leave, this sport is going to be in dire need of personalities to take that torch.”

“Yes, we’ve got Rublevs, Zverevs. But at the same time you need—they might take the mantle of those three, what about the others? You look at any other sport, there’s a wide range of players that are marketed. Look at the NBA, they market everyone. Like, tennis needs that. You got so many players that are just going to bring so many—Felix [Auger Aliassime], for instance. He has, for me personally, he’s going to have such a wide fan base that needs to be tapped into to keep this sport alive.”

There are a group of younger players, like Kyrgios, Bublik, Tiafoe, and Naomi Osaka on the women’s side, who are true to themselves first, even if it comes at the expense of wins and losses. It’s an attitude that comes naturally to a generation that’s more honest about mental health, that prioritizes authenticity, that’s willing to say that sometimes they don’t love the grind of the tour, and that not everyone can have the unwavering focus of a Novak Djokovic or a Rafael Nadal.

It’s a healthy development, but one that may leave tennis with a question for the future: How does a sport that’s based on winning market personalities that are less singularly focused on it? Kyrgios helps the sport when he’s on the court, but this is his first tournament since January.

Mixed doubles, dual-gender exhibitions, and semi-serious team events like Laver Cup would seem to be the right showcases for this approach to tennis. As Kyrgios, Venus and Sabrina Santamaria showed on Friday, just because a tennis match is fun, doesn’t mean it isn’t real tennis.

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