The bad news for British tennis fans is that Jamie Murray and Venus Williams’s campaign for the mixed doubles ended in only the second round. The good news is that they lost to a British pair, Jonny O’Mara and Alicia Barnett, whose chutzpah-filled performance provided a pair of instant-replacement heroes.
An epic 34-point tie-break in the third set packed in more than enough thrills to make up for the glamour pair’s early exit, and added a number of memorable Williams moments to her already bulging Wimbledon file. After a classic Venus winner deep to the baseline took her and Murray to their third matchpoint at 13-12, she flung her head back and roared like a lion. Unfortunately, Barnett, who was not once cowed by her famous opponent, pulled off her own piece of brilliance at the net to save it.
It took O’Mara and Barnett five attempts of their own to win the game and when they did they looked so amazed at their own achievement that no one in the place could begrudge it for a second. It’s not often you’ll hear a British crowd cheering against a Murray, but love for the underdog still reigns supreme here, and both Brits had a bank of personal support in the stands.
They showed personality from the moment they stepped on court. Barnett was quick to take charge at the net, and O’Mara kept her motivated with a constant stream of encouragement and instruction. “Here, then there!” soon became a familiar catchphrase before each Barnett service, although O’Mara noticeably quit his in-play commentary after it seemed to distract his partner out of a couple of her shots.
In comparison, Murray and Williams appeared a relatively quiet pair. There was less frisson about their game here than in their opening match – perhaps after their performance on Centre Court they had decided they were in it to win it, not to entertain. They took the first set 6-4 and went a break up in the second, until Barnett broke back with a pass through Murray that seemed to take her aback as much as her opponent and prompted a spontaneous victory spin.
O’Mara had his own magical moment against Murray, a blinding return of serve that levelled the match at one set all. Teamwork and a can-do attitude kept them in the game after going an early break down in the third, and when they struggled to get the ball past Murray, they took him on together. By the time they were back on serve, 5-4 up and 30-30, the upset looked decidedly on, although neither side could have predicted it taking it as long as it did.