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Azarenka and Mirnyi win mixed opener

Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka strategize during their mixed doubles match against Robert Lindstedt and Sofia Arvidsson.
by Josh Blagden
Saturday 30 June 2012

The All England Club plays host to the Olympic tennis event in just a few weeks, which will mark the first time the tournament has been held on grass since its return to being a medal event. In addition, it sees the return of mixed doubles as an official Olympic event for the first time since 1924. Olympic tennis has come a long way since it was re-introduced competitively in 1988 and has been given a real boost with its arrival at the birthplace of tennis, Wimbledon.

Grass-court specialist and American medal hopeful, John Isner, is looking forward to the chance of retribution at SW19 following his shock first-round exit at this year’s Championships and has his sights firmly set on winning a medal at the forthcoming Games. ‘"This is something that I've been looking forward to for a very, very long time. To have it at the Mecca of tennis, really, at Wimbledon, makes it a lot more special, in my opinion. It's really like the fifth Grand Slam this year."

The addition of mixed doubles to the Olympic roster provides players with an extra medal opportunity since they are allowed to compete in all three events. Serena Williams has expressed her desire to enter all three competitions. ‘’I can do it. You can put me in all three, I’m coming out with one or two medals.’’

Williams is not short of suitors to partner her in the doubles either, as Andy Roddick, John Isner and Bob Bryan are all keen to pair up with the former World No.1 and bring medal glory to the United States. Bryan, a doubles specialist declared, “it’s the easiest shot at a medal, everybody is going to fight to get in that draw.’’ The deadline for entry into the Olympic mixed doubles is July 31 and competition for the 16 available spaces will be fierce.

One pair who will be hoping to use the Championships as ideal preparation in their bid to strike gold this summer are Belarusians, Max Mirnyi and Victoria Azarenka. The duo won the US Open mixed doubles title in 2007 and were back in action today against Swedes, Robert Lindstedt and Sofia Andersson.

The breezy conditions on Court 19 prompted Azerenka to play in knee-length leggings, however, they were not advantageous to the world No.4 and her veteran partner as they struggled for opportunities to break the Swedes in a tight first set resulting in a tie-break.

Neither pair managed to establish a lead of more than one point during the tie-break, but it was the Belarusians who blinked first as a Lindstedt volley handed the Swedes set point at 6-5. Clearly wearing leggings was an inspired move from Azarenka as she rifled a backhand winner down the tramlines to save set point.

Both pairs then squandered consecutive set points before they tied at 11-11. Eventually Mirnyi’s dominance at the net prevailed as he executed a deft volley to claim the first set in 55 minutes.   

The second set was more routine for the former US Open champions as they took an early break and held their nerve to triumph 7-6, 6-4. They await an intriguing second-round clash with Italian seeds Fabio Fognini and Sara Errani. 

Elsewhere a number of other first-round ties were completed with British pair Kenneth Skupsi and Melanie South advancing to the second round, while Angelique Kerber continued her impressive form at the tournament with a straight-sets win partneringh fellow German Philipp Petzschner.

It was a mixed day for Heather Watson after earlier losing to Agnieszka Radwanska in the Ladies’ Singles. She and fellow British Olympian Ross Hutchins marched through to the second round following a convincing 6-4, 6-3 victory over Daniela Hantuchova and Filip Polasek. They face a difficult encounter against 3rd seeds Nenad Zimonjic and Katerina Srebotnik next. 

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