Ahead of travelling to the US for the return to competitive professional tennis, Andy Murray has called for the sport to embrace mixed events, while his rivals Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal also appear set to join him in New York.
Murray, the former world No. 1 from Dunblane, teamed up with compatriot Jodie Burradge in the Battle of the Brits Team Tennis – a Ryder Cup-style exhibition event – on Tuesday in mixed doubles, with the pair narrowly beaten by Joe Salisbury and Emma Raducanu.
One of tennis’ great strengths in terms of global appeal – at recreational level if nothing else – is the ability for men and women to play together, and yet there are few mixed events incorporated into the main tour outside of Grand Slams.
With the regular globe-trotting tennis season on hold amid the coronavirus pandemic, Jamie Murray – Andy’s older brother who is a seven-time Grand Slam winning doubles specialist – has launched two British events on home soil.
While the first was a men’s only event, the second, a team event which is taking place at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton this week, features men’s and ladies’ singles, men’s and ladies’ doubles and mixed doubles.
Murray, 33, has only committed to playing doubles this week as he cautiously prepares for the US Open next month, and he bemoaned the absence of mixed doubles in regular tour life.
‘I think sports miss a bit of a trick with this stuff,’ said Murray. ‘The Hopman Cup [a now defunct men’s and women’s team event in Australia], for example, was a brilliant event in my opinion.
‘The players enjoyed it. It sometimes had a little bit of an exhibition feel in some of the matches but that would be my only criticism. I played there a bunch of times and I loved it. It was a great event.
‘Putting match-ups in tennis like Serena Williams and Roger Federer on the same court, it is so brilliant for our sport.
‘We are able to do that in tennis and I think we should embrace it a little bit more, not necessarily every single week but at times it would be great.
‘I would like to see Rafa on the court with some of the top female players. When I watched Roger and Serena playing, it was great. They were into it and I’m sure they enjoyed it as well.
‘Golf is another sport where I think it would be interesting to see a mixed Ryder Cup event. Again it’s a sport where they are able to do it and they just miss out a little bit. I do think people really enjoy watching it, and the players like it as well.’
Murray’s focus will be purely on singles later this month when he attempts to win a second US Open crown.
There has been plenty of speculation on who will travel to New York amid ongoing concerns due to Covid-19.
Murray’s rivals Nadal and Djokovic have both been unwilling to publicly commit to the tournament, however, they are both part of a strong men’s entry list for the Western & Southern Open – a Masters 1000 event that is typically played in Cincinnati but will also be staged at Flushing Meadows this year.
While Nadal and Djokovic could still withdraw from both events, it suggests they are intending to compete at the US Open. Should Nadal defend his title, he would equal Federer’s all-time Grand Slam record.
Murray, however, expects there to be plenty of surprises in the Big Apple, due to a lack of match practice for the players.
‘It will make a difference. You just can’t replicate matches in practice, It just isn’t the same,’ he added. ‘It is different on the body, on the mind.
‘The pressure is just different and no matter how hard you try to make your practices as challenging and difficult as matches, they just aren’t.
‘For me, I’ve always been a very poor practice player. I don’t win many practice sets. It doesn’t matter who I am playing against, I have just never been particularly good.
‘My coach said that the year I finished No. 1, he thought that I won 15-20% of my practice sets that year but I only lost nine matches and won about 80-90% of sets during competition. It’s just not the same and it will be very different for all of the players.
‘Some players who have had injury lay-offs will probably be a little bit more experienced in terms of coming back after a long period, but it’s an opportunity for players.
‘There will be upsets for sure. Going into the US Open with potentially only one or two matches in the Cincinnati event in New York, it will make for some interesting results, that’s for sure. It will be interesting for the viewers on TV.’
Serena Williams is among the players in the WTA field but the two most recent US Open champions, Bianca Andreescu and Naomi Osaka are both absent from the Western & Southern Open entry field.
Elsewhere, Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund have kissed and made up after their on-court spat on Tuesday. ‘We spoke and it’s perfectly fine,’ said British No. 1 Evans.
In wider British tennis news, the LTA has appointed a new performance director.
Michael Bourne, currently acting director of performance at UK Sport. will replace Simon Timson. He has previously worked for the England and Wales Cricket Board as national lead for performance analysis.
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