This is a fan post. I have looked deeply into my heart—and also shallowly, into my brain—and I have reached the exciting conclusion that I am a fan of Serena Williams and Andy Murray. I mean as a mixed doubles team. I was already a fan of them both individually, of course. Individually, they’re two of the greatest tennis players of all time, each responsible for about 4 million moments that made you feel like someone had just added some nasty topspin to the rotation of the planet. Now they’re playing mixed doubles together. I won’t keep you in suspense. My verdict is: It’s fun.
“Fun” has not been the most operative keyword at Wimbledon this year. Taken as a spectacle, Wimbledon is always pretty fun, in its freshly laundered and duchess-y way. But taken as a tennis tournament, this year’s iteration has been … well, look, I’m not saying it’s been boring, but I did just spend 15 seconds trying to decide whether to make a meme of Princess Margaret sipping a whiskey and water over the words POSITIVELY SNOOZEVILLE, DARLING. (I landed on no, but only because Princess Margaret would have loathed Photoshop.) Fifteen-year-old Cori Gauff’s run—now ended, but for three rounds the brilliant exception to this complaint—was a thing of pure happiness. Unfortunately, it was a comet of joy lighting up the night over a landscape of deepest whatever.
Early in the tournament, things looked more promising. Week 1 opened with a flurry of upsets; Naomi Osaka, Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, and Stefanos Tsitsipas were all out within the first two days. But none of the players who beat them went on to do anything terribly compelling: Yulia Putintseva, the unseeded Kazakh player who took out Osaka, went on to lose her second-round match in straight sets to the unseeded Swiss player Viktorija Golubic; Jirí Vesely, who beat Zverev, lost in the third round to Benoît Paire (who lost in his next match without so much as smashing seven rackets); Thomas Fabbiano, who beat Tsitsipas, lost in the third round to the unseeded 35-year-old Fernando Verdasco; Sam Querrey, who beat Thiem, has reached the quarterfinals, but sadly remains a 7,000-mph serve attached to Sam Querrey. Meanwhile, all the usual 37-year-olds continue to mow down any player too young to have seen Archers of Loaf in concert.
Rafael Nadal beat Nick Kyrgios in a second-round match that was extremely fun for about an hour and a half, but that then left the entire tennis community acting like it got a sunburn at the beach and was in a terrible mood all through dinner.
Nadal: Could you pass the ketchup, please.
Kyrgios: [Uses underarm technique to toss ketchup across table.]
Nadal: [Gravely] You do not respect this ketchup, and you do not respect yourself.
Into this bowl of bland cream, the Serena-Andy mixed-doubles experience has plopped like a glorious strawberry. The two stars have teamed up as Murray works to come back from surgery for what’s generally been described as a “hip injury”; considering that it put his career in doubt to the point that he basically announced his retirement back in January, it would be, perhaps, more apt to describe it as an “entire mode of being and existence, how have I wronged thee, wrathful Lord” injury. They’ve played two matches so far. In the first, they beat Alexa Guarachi and Andreas Mies 6-4, 6-1. In the second, played yesterday, they beat the 14th-seeded Raquel Atawo and Fabrice Martin 7-5, 6-3. Today, they’ll face Nicole Melichar and Bruno Soares, the top seeds, for a spot in the quarterfinals.
It sometimes happens, at tennis majors, that two stars of the singles brackets, each much too famous to care all that much about doubles under normal circumstances, decide to team up and play doubles together for what’s known around the sport as “some weird reason.” It further sometimes happens that for a short while, these two stars have just a ridiculous amount of fun playing doubles together. This is basically my favorite thing in sports. For one absurd U.S. Open night in 2015, Nick Kyrgios and Genie Bouchard—neither what you’d exactly call an uncomplicatedly popular player on their own—put on one of the most loopily enjoyable mixed-doubles exhibitions I’ve ever seen, beating [checks Google] by a score of [browser error]. It was so great. They were laughing and goofing around and having such a delightful time you could probably see it from space. I’m not sure I’ve ever had more fun at a tennis match, and if that seems disrespectful to the hard-grinding yeomen of the sport who populate the workaday doubles ranks, all I can say is that we have to take our joy where we find it. This world is full of boredom and disappointment, and Novak Djokovic will never retire.
Serena and Andy haven’t been playing to quite a Nick-Genie level of transcendent silliness. But considering that neither Serena nor Andy is known for possessing an especially sunny on-court demeanor—he’s a high-strung stress case, she’s a larger-than-life opera goddess—it’s just frankly wonderful to see them so relaxed. They’re smiling. They’re making little jokes with each other. She’s playing better than he is, unsurprisingly. She made the singles semifinals yesterday, a few hours before the Atawo-Martin win, whereas he’s been mostly nonoperational for months. But he’s hitting decently and moving like maybe there isn’t an anvil lodged in his pelvis, which makes this a good year, relatively speaking.
On the final point in their first-round match, Guarachi served to Murray, who was playing the backhand side because Serena plays only the forehand side in doubles. (This is her one rule of doubles, and I think it seems pretty reasonable? She is Serena Williams; if she said “I will play doubles with you, but only if you forswear all earthly loyalties and give me your severed left hand in tribute,” you’d have to at least consider taking that deal, right?) Murray batted a simple forehand passing shot by Mies: game, set, match. Andy and Serena high-fived, then exchanged a respectful little air kiss. A double-cheeker! Judy Murray, Andy’s mother—who, reminder, rules—was in the stands, laughing and taking cellphone videos. What a joy! I know that tennis is supposed to be a rigorously lyrical sport whose every sliced backhand illustrates profound concerns of the human condition. Some of the time it actually is that! But I—controversially—also love watching sports when they are fun and make me feel good.
So, as a fan, I’m taking a minute to enjoy this feeling. Maybe Serena and Andy will keep winning, and hoist the trophy, and laugh, knowing that they will probably keep it in the garage. Maybe they will lose to Melichar and Soares, and when polite, dutiful, Roger Federer wins 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 tennis will resume its unending reign. Either way, this is special. If I were Prince Charles, which thank god I am not, I would burn bulletproof Bentley rubber getting to the royal box tomorrow. I would probably air kiss someone while I was there; for the viewers at home, I doubt this would be anywhere near as much fun.