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
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