Arise, 'Serandy'! Serena, Murray pairing puts all eyes on mixed doubles

LONDON -- When you think of the great duos in history, several probably come to mind: Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Batman and Robin, peanut butter and jelly, Thelma and Louise, Kenan and Kel. Your list might vary slightly, but you get the idea.

And starting this fortnight, if things live up to even a small percentage of the expectations, we'll be able to add another pairing to this esteemed list:

Serena Williams and Andy Murray.

OK, perhaps we're overhyping this slightly, but it's hard to think this new partnership doesn't at least have the potential for greatness. After days of Ross-and-Rachel, "will they or won't they?" speculation, the two confirmed they would be playing together Tuesday night -- and the interest in the Wimbledon mixed doubles event has arguably never been greater.

"It's brilliant," said Heather Watson, who won the 2016 title with partner Henri Kontinen, and is back in the draw with him again this year. "It's great that [Andy is] playing, in general. That's so positive for the game. I think it will be really exciting to watch him play with Serena."

It's not exactly unprecedented for big-name singles players to participate in mixed doubles -- last year saw the likes of Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Jack Sock -- and there are some legendary winners in the event's history, including Martina Hingis, Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King and Tracy Austin. However, it is rare to have two players of Williams' and Murray's caliber play together.

Murray, for his part, is not playing singles this year. He made his return to competition just last month at Queen's Club after a five-month absence following hip surgery. He wasn't sure if he would ever play again because of the extreme pain he was experiencing before the surgery, and a tearful news conference ahead of the Australian Open in January seemed to be an end point, rather than a new beginning. Now, though, he is easing himself back by focusing on doubles only at this point. He won the men's doubles title in his first tournament back with Feliciano Lopez, and is teaming up with Pierre-Hugues Herbert in that event at the All England Club.

Herbert, who has won a career Grand Slam in doubles and isn't exactly a slouch, said earlier this week he has never felt more pressure than while playing with Murray. The 32-year-old Scot, as you probably know, is as revered of a figure as they come at Wimbledon, having ended the 77-year-long singles drought for British male players in 2013. When he announced he was hoping to play in the mixed doubles event but was having trouble securing a partner, a near frenzy broke out on Twitter in response. Everyone from Billie Jean King to Maria Sharapova to his own grandmother offered their services.

But Murray stayed coy on his plans, and potential partner. Although many, many others were apparently interested in teaming up with him.

"Well, Andy Murray didn't ask me to play," said a joking Azarenka, who lost in the 2018 finals with Murray's brother Jamie. "Kind of pissed about that."

But one can hardly blame him for picking Williams. She is widely considered one of the best to ever play the game, and has 23 Grand Slam singles titles, including seven at Wimbledon. She's as big of a superstar as tennis has. Not to mention, she won the 1998 mixed doubles event with Max Mirnyi, as well as the US Open title the same year.

Murray has never won a mixed doubles title but did take home the silver medal with partner Laura Robson at the 2012 Olympics, played at the All England Club.

The partnership, which some are calling "Serandy," is shaping up to be the biggest story of the tournament. And in a year where there is no shortage of compelling stars (see: Gauff, Coco) and dramatic early matchups (hello, Rafael Nadal vs. Nick Kyrgios), that's saying something.

"[I] hope they put them on Centre Court because everyone is going to watch it," Simona Halep said.

Mixed doubles is a fixture at Grand Slams, but it's not played at any other WTA or ATP event, and it typically receives little fanfare. And it's not exactly where the money is, either. The winning pair will receive £116,000 (roughly $146,000) -- compared to £2.35 million (around $2.9 million) for the individual singles winners. It's frequently relegated to small, outer courts and receives limited, if any, television exposure until the final.

However, while the relatively small payday remains, this year's event will not be typical in any other way.

"I think this will be the most talked-about mixed doubles draw in the history of tennis," said Pam Shriver, a 21-time Grand Slam doubles champion and winner of the 1987 French Open mixed doubles title, as well as a current ESPN analyst. "It's going to be unbelievable. I'm just imagining the ovation for both of them on one of the big courts, where they'll definitely be playing, and it's going to be magic.

"They both are making major comebacks, and between Murray being the one to end the [British men's singles] drought here, and Serena and her quest to break Margaret Court's record [of 24 Grand Slam singles titles], the crowd is going to love them. I think Serena is going to feel the crowd on her side more than she's ever experienced. I don't think we'll ever see anything like this again."

In addition to the "Serandy" pairing, several other big names are joining forces, most notably Venus Williams with Frances Tiafoe, and Jamie Murray with Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Kyrgios is also in the draw, paired with Desirae Krawczyk. If the unseeded Serena and Andy team were to make a run, they pair could potentially face Venus and Tiafoe in the semifinals, and Jamie and Mattek-Sands in the final.

"I think they could end up anywhere from losing in the first round to winning it all," Shriver said. "Mixed doubles is so unpredictable. But I do think they're both super motivated. The fact that Murray has come back and is focusing on doubles shows just how much he loves and enjoys the sport, and that can really help them. Same with Serena, she doesn't need to do this, but credit to her for wanting to."

Mixed doubles is a much different game from singles, or even traditional doubles, and offers a unique experience for the players and fans alike.

"Mixed doubles is definitely one of the most entertaining things you'll see on a tennis court," Mattek-Sands told ESPN in 2018. "It's a different dynamic. You're gonna see some power. You're gonna see some finesse. You really have it all in mixed doubles.

"You get the guys throwing their heat on their serves, and they aren't taking it easy on the girls across the net, either. They're bringing their best serves, and then you'll see the great volleys and the touch and the strategy. I really think, for a fan, it would be one of the most interesting matches that they watch."

Though neither Williams nor Murray has much recent experience in mixed doubles or experience playing with the other, and they are unseeded, it's hard to think these two won't be the favorites entering every match they play -- starting with Friday's opening-round match against Alexa Guarachi and Andreas Mies. After all, they have a combined nine Wimbledon singles titles to their names, so they do know a thing or two about how to win at the All England Club. And, if nothing else, at least they've gotten everyone talking -- and watching.

"I mean, good luck to everybody else," Azarenka said. "It's going to be a tough, tough, tough [team] to beat. They both take it seriously. But I feel like it's going to be just a pleasure for people to watch. You know, it's going to be historic. So I'll be definitely watching, as well."