Cen­tre Court braced for con­flict­ing emo­tions as Bri­tons do bat­tle

Home play­ers meet in fi­nal for the first time since 1961 Mur­ray and Hingis backed to beat Wat­son and part­ner

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Wimbledon 2017 - By Daniel Schofield at Wim­ble­don

Some­thing will have to give on Cen­tre Court this af­ter­noon. Un­de­feated records are on the line as for the first time in 56 years Bri­tish play­ers will be on the op­pos­ing side of a Wim­ble­don fi­nal when Heather Wat­son and Henri Kon­ti­nen take on Jamie Mur­ray and Martina Hingis in the mixed dou­bles.

De­spite be­ing de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Wat­son and Kon­ti­nen start as un­der­dogs against Mur­ray and Hingis, two of the finest dou­bles play­ers of their gen­er­a­tion, who have reached the fi­nal with­out drop­ping a set. Both pair­ings en­joyed par­ti­san sup­port in their semi­fi­nals so it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see who wins the crowd’s af­fec­tion in a con­test which also pits Wim­ble­don’s most pop­u­lar moth­ers in Judy Mur­ray and Michelle Wat­son in op­pos­ing camps.

“It’s great that two Brits are in the fi­nal but it doesn’t make a dif­fer­ence,” Wat­son said. “It’s go­ing to be a great match. I think the at­mos­phere’s go­ing to be great. I hope it’s a full crowd and every­body gets in­volved. It would be in­cred­i­ble.”

Both com­bi­na­tions came to­gether just be­fore the tour­na­ment but have forged in­stant un­der­stand­ings. Nei­ther pair­ing take them­selves too se­ri­ously, ex­hibit­ing a huge sense of fun as they get to know each other’s foibles and ten­den­cies. At times, Kon­ti­nen has had to vo­cally tell Wat­son where to stand while there is al­ways a hive of ac­tiv­ity be­hind the non-server’s backs in terms of hand sig­nals and ges­tures.

“I find Henri so en­joy­able to play with, we have a great time out there,” Wat­son said. “Even if I miss a sim­ple ball or don’t put away a vol­ley he’s so sup­port­ive and it makes me feel great for the next point. Henri tells me what to do and I try my best to do it. And if I suc­ceed then he just goes and wins the point for us.” Repris­ing their part­ner­ship from last year, Wat­son and Kon­ti­nen put in the bare min­i­mum of prac­tice be­fore the tour­na­ment with Wat­son pri­ori­tis­ing her sin­gles run to the third round.

They even de­cided to forgo a hit-up yes­ter­day so Kon­ti­nen, the Finn, could have a lie-in. “I haven’t had a sleep in for two weeks so I said I need it,” Kon­ti­nen said. “I just like to sleep in and hit a bit later. But we’re not su­per­sti­tious about hit­ting to­gether.”

In part that is be­cause they work so well to­gether, with Kon­ti­nen’s big serv­ing and as­sured touch at the net com­ple­ment­ing Wat­son’s power from the base­line. “Her re­turns are great, much bet­ter than mine,” Kon­ti­nen said. “And her serve, other guys hate her serve. Other guys say af­ter the match they don’t know what to do about her serve, it’s so pre­cise and low.”

Hingis, who is bid­ding for her 18th dou­bles ti­tle, ex­tended the in­vi­ta­tion to Mur­ray a few days be­fore the tour­na­ment. Mur­ray, who be­came the first in his fam­ily to win a Wim­ble­don ti­tle, in the mixed dou­bles with Je­lena Jankovic 10 years ago, was more than happy to ac­cept.

“I wasn’t plan­ning on play­ing the mixed, but it was a great op­por­tu­nity for me to play with a great player – and I’m glad I did,” Mur­ray said. “I haven’t played much mixed in the last two years or so but it’s a great op­por­tu­nity for me to play with Martina, she’s an amaz­ing player. She’s shown that all week, and I’m glad I de­cided to play. I’ve got a lot more ex­pe­ri­ence un­der my belt than in 2007. I have played a lot of big matches over the last few years. We are con­fi­dent. We are a good team.”

There is a lit­tle bit of his­tory be­tween Mur­ray and Wat­son. At the Rio Olympics, Mur­ray was among the first ten­nis play­ers to ar­rive at the Olympic Vil­lage and left his bag to re­serve his cho­sen room be­fore wan­der­ing off to grab some food. When he re­turned, he found that Wat­son had moved in and evac­u­ated his be­long­ings.

By­gones be by­gones and all that, but there’s no doubt­ing the mu­tual re­spect be­tween the teams. “Kon­ti­nen is dif­fi­cult to play be­cause he’s just hit­ting ev­ery­thing as hard as he can so it’s not like there’s any rhythm,” Mur­ray said. “And Heather’s a good dou­bles player. She’s got good feel, good tim­ing, good aware­ness of what’s go­ing on, so it’s a tough match, but its go­ing to be a tough match for them.”

Win­ning pair: Martina Hingis and Jamie Mur­ray are favourites to tri­umph to­day

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