“Not all Olympic medals are created equal.”
Globetrotting journalists bring this oft-quoted statement up each and every Olympic Games. Usually, it’s immediately followed by a mention of trampoline, skeleton, or some other “niche” event. A gold medal in mixed doubles curling may be weighted the same as a gold medal in the men’s 100m sprint on the all-time medal count. However, in the eyes of spectators, the medals are not the same. At the last Olympics, Canadian mixed doubles curling team John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes stood on a podium with gold medals around their neck having tallied only one half-hour practice together. They showed up in PyeongChang and dominated the entire field. In contrast, Usain Bolt needed not only to be the fastest competitor on competition day; he also had to break the world record for the 100m sprint.
Furthermore, there is also an imbalance even when looking at total medal counts. Michael Phelps was able to accumulate 28 Olympic medals in four Olympic Games during his illustrious career. On the other hand, another outstanding athlete in his field, Lebron James, has a total of three Olympic medals. Although he played for the dominant USA basketball team, there is only one medal per Olympics to be won in basketball. There are multiple different swimming events to be won by a dominant swimmer such as Phelps.
Tennis and mixed doubles at the Olympics
Tennis is also an example of an imbalance between categories, as the category of Mixed Doubles is now often an afterthought on tour. Take a look at the prize money of tournaments for an example of this. Winning Wimbledon will net the champion of both the Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ Singles £2,350,000 each. For Doubles, the champions pocket £540,000 per pair, up 20% from 2018. The final category, Mixed Doubles, see the champions receiving £116,000 per pair. In other words, per player, the Doubles Wimbledon title is worth about 11% of a Singles title. The Mixed Doubles title is worth only 2% of the Singles title.
But all that changes at the Olympics. A gold medal is a gold medal. Thus, it’s no surprise that big names in tennis sign up for the Mixed Doubles category in the hopes of forever etching themselves into the history of Olympic medal winners. The Olympics let us watch something that used to be commonplace in tennis. Martina Naritilova, Billie Jean King, Owen Davidson, and other big names in the tennis world have multiple Mixed Doubles Grand Slam championships. Most of the top players in the world today have rarely so much as entered a Mixed Doubles competition outside of the Olympics. All that being said, it is time to speculate: which names will sign up for this unique “blast from the past” event? Which teams will be the ones to watch come 2020 in Tokyo?
Here are our picks for the most intriguing potential pairings in 2020 Olympic Mixed Doubles. Don’t miss the rest of our series: we also considered potential Men’s and Women’s Doubles pairings for 2020 on the Topnotch Tennis Tours blog.
Australia: Ashleigh Barty & Nick Kyrgios
Top-ranked WTA athlete Ash Barty is in a prime position to capitalize on next year’s Olympic games for her home country, Australia. She’ll have an excellent, if slightly erratic, doubles partner in Nick Kyrgios. Nick has the athleticism and doubles acumen to help propel the duo to a medal, but we’ll have to see if an Olympic medal is motivation enough for Primetime Kyrgios to show up. Otherwise, we might get to watch a classic Nick blow-up, some racket smashes, and an innocent Barty hopelessly tagging along for the train wreck.
Canada: Bianca Andreescu & Denis Shapovalov
The youngest team on this list, and possibly the favourite for a medal if the team comes to fruition. Shapovalov is an excellent young talent with amazing movement. Moreover, his signature jumping one-handed backhand smash can create excellent opportunities from anywhere on the court. He is also a regular doubles player with his partner Rohan Bopanna. Bianca is in the top 5 women’s tennis players in the world. She has outstanding power and mental toughness that will allow Shapovalov to apply pressure at the net. The words “Canada” and “favorite to win a medal at the summer Olympics” don’t usually go together, but if these two Canucks pair up, we may have to get used to hearing it for future Olympic Games to come.
Team name: They the North
Germany: Angelique Kerber & Alexander Zverev
23 professional singles titles between the two leaves this team as one of the most decorated and notable pairings on this list. At 22 years old, Zverev is one of the top talents in the up-and-coming next generation of male tennis players. Zverev, standing tall at 6’6″, is a particularly dominating presence at the net with great feel and reach. Kerber should pair well with Zverev, creating a nice left-handed/right-handed dynamic that should cover the outside of the court exceptionally well. Kerber will be looking to make 2020 the year that she adds an Olympic medal to her trophy case, right next to her three grand slam singles championships.
Team name: Zverber
Japan: Naomi Osaka & Kei Nishikori
Japanese fans have been crossing their fingers for this pairing since the Olympics were scheduled to be in Tokyo. Japanse tennis fans are rabid over their two top talents, and an Osaka-Nishikori matchup will bring with it sold out crowds and a very one-sided atmosphere in the stadium. Neither player is a known doubles specialist. Neither Kei nor Naomi have gotten past the second round of a Grand Slam doubles competition. But can outrageous amounts of tennis talent and fan support help them overcome a lack of doubles expertise? We will have to wait and see!
Team name: Osaki
Switzerland: Belinda Bencic & Rodger Federer
One of the best to ever play the game will be finishing his Olympic career in 2020. Roger Federer has two Olympic medals to his name: a gold in Men’s Doubles and a silver in Men’s Singles. If Roger is feeling healthy, Mixed Doubles might provide an excellent option to expand that count and strike a win for his home country of Switzerland. He has an excellent option of a partner in Belinda Bencic. Currently ranked 7th in the world in Women’s Singles, Bencic has been having an excellent year. This includes a run to the semifinals of the US Open. We’re crossing our fingers for this pairing!
Great Britain: Johanna Konta & Andy Murray
Andy Murray and the Olympics go together like bees and honey. Andy Murray is the first in history to win back-to-back Men’s Singles Olympic gold medals. He also picked up a silver medal in Mixed Doubles in the 2012 Olympics, so he is a proven talent in this category. This year, he has an incredibly talented option for a partner in Johanna Konta. Both have bounced back year, returning to the top echelons of the sport after a period of injuries. This year, Konta made runs to the semifinals at the French Open and the quarterfinals at the US Open. Many Grand Slam Tennis Tours guests reported running into Konta at the JW Marriot Essex House, a great home away from home for both us and Konta. Can Murray add to his Olympic medal counts? Will Konta lock up her first-ever medal for Great Britain?
United States: two teams
At the Olympics, each country has the opportunity to put forward two teams if they are qualified to do so. For 2020, the United States has arguably the best opportunity to put forward two teams that will not only grab headlines, but may even grab medals.
Serena Williams & John Isner
John and Serena need no introduction, but here’s a short one anyway. Serena is arguably the best female tennis player to ever pick up a racket. John has been a mainstay on the ATP circuit, using his almost 7-foot-tall frame to hit over 10,000 career aces. Together these two will beat down their opposition with displays of raw power from the baseline and finesse at the net.
Reilly Opelka & Coco Gauff
On the other side, we have Opelka and Gauff. Coco has taken the world by storm this year after not only qualifying to play the main draw at Wimbledon at only 15 years old, but by storming through to the fourth round in that very same tournament. She won her first professional singles title this year, and has also won multiple professional titles in doubles. Reilly won his first ATP 250 title this year on his way to reaching a career high of No. 31, and will be a mainstay on the ATP circuit. Similarly to John, he’ll use his 7-foot-tall frame to hit a seemingly limitless amount of aces and winners. One thing is for certain: if you end up coming across an American Mixed Doubles team, be prepared for some tough competition. Oh, and maybe leave your lobs in your bag.