Mixed Doubles, Often Neglected, Crowns Resilient Champions

After they arrived in Melbourne, Rajeev Ram and Barbora Krejcikova received notice that passengers on their respective charter flights had tested positive for the coronavirus. The two were among the 72 players then forced to enter a 14-day “hard quarantine” in their hotel rooms, denied the opportunities to go outside and practice that were afforded other players.

Roughly five weeks later, Ram and Krejcikova proved their resilience by winning the Australian Open mixed doubles title, beating the Australian team of Matthew Ebden and Samantha Stosur 6-1, 6-4 in the final on Saturday night.

“I mean, even though we were in hard lockdown for 14 days and we didn’t have an opportunity to play, after that you just go out there and you do your best,” Krejcikova said. “It’s really amazing what we actually achieved just in these last couple of weeks.”

Ram and Krejcikova and their playing partners also made the respective finals in men’s and women’s doubles; Krejcikova lost in the women’s doubles final on Friday with Katerina Siniakova, who was also in hard quarantine; Ram will play in the men’s final on Sunday with Joe Salisbury, who was not.

Women’s singles runner-up Jennifer Brady also made her deep run at the Australian Open after 14 days in her hotel room.

Mixed doubles in Australia has frequently brought out Krejcikova’s best tennis: She has won the title three years in a row — in 2019 with Ram and last year with Nikola Mektic.

As they prepared to reunite on court, Ram and Krejcikova stayed in frequent touch during their isolations. Ram said that was a key to staying positive in the difficult circumstances.

“I think we were all in a situation that wasn’t ideal, but the best you can do at that point was check in with your friend, check in with other people that are in the same situation,” he said. “It helps you get through it. For sure, it helped me get through it.”

Mixed doubles has been a part of tennis since its origins in Victorian-era garden parties. It remains a popular format at the recreational level, but it has been increasingly scarce on the professional level since the pandemic began.

The Australian Open mixed doubles competition was the first such sanctioned event staged since last year’s Australian Open. Even with increased talk of the men’s and women’s tours further collaborating, and after headline-generating moments like Serena Williams partnering with Andy Murray at Wimbledon and playing mixed doubles against Roger Federer in 2019, mixed doubles has been neglected.

The Hopman Cup, the annual mixed-team event, was discontinued by Tennis Australia after the 2019 tournament and has yet to find a new home. Both the United States Open and French Open last year decided not to hold mixed doubles events during the pandemic, even though the event didn’t significantly increase the number of people on site compared with the other, larger draws.

“It was unfortunate for sure that the other events didn’t have it; I was really excited that this one did,” Ram said. “Was I ever worried it was going to get cut? Maybe. I think when you have situations with governments and different things and capacities and all that, yeah, you are worried, probably.”

“I tell you what, I wasn’t worried that the singles was going to get cut,” Ram added. “Definitely these are the first events to go, but I’m glad they were able to pull it off. I hope it continues. I think it’s one of the more fun events to watch, even, as a tennis fan.”

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