During the 2008 Summer Olympics, I became convinced of two things: (1) Tennis really does belong in the Olympics1; and (2) It’s a shame that they don’t offer mixed doubles. My “mixed doubles” wish has just come true. Starting right away — the 2012 Games in London — mixed doubles is part of the program. Why should you care? After all, tennis broadcast eminence Mary Carillo has referred to mixed doubles as “the funny cars” of tennis — as Jon Wertheim stated in that same linked story, it’s “nothing to be taken seriously.”
Not outside of the Olympics, anyway. But placing mixed doubles in the Olympics will make people, especially the competitors, take it seriously. Even Roger Federer, who almost never plays doubles, was overcome with joy at winning the gold medal in men’s doubles in 2008. (See video at end of post.) Funny cars will become a source of soul-stirring, nationalistic inspiration.
Also: Funny cars or not, tennis is the only sport besides badminton (which is more exciting than you think) where women compete head-to-head with men. (Other Olympic sports where women and men are in the running for same set of medals, such as pairs ice dancing and equestrian, involve serial performances. In sailing, men and women do race at the same time, but…who cares?)
The Olympics have a global audience, and thus a chance to bring visibility and respect to women in places where their status is, shall we say, less than equal to that of males. It won’t solve anything, but it can’t hurt. Sports are surprisingly powerful, as Nelson Mandela demonstrated. (Here are some early reviews from the new Clint Eastwood flick Invictus (out tomorrow), that chronicles Mandela’s use of rugby-fever to unite South Africa shortly after his election.)
One more thing: This may inspire twice-retired (but still young) Martina Hingis to emerge from the shadows one more time, for the chance to play mixed doubles with Federer. I bet he’d be eager for the chance to team up with the smartest player ever to set foot on the court (although hardly the most powerful). They’d be unbeatable.
- Watch this weird video (and listen to accompanying song) to get a sense of how much victory means, even to someone like Federer. ↩