WIMBLEDON, England — Yet another impressionist painting of a day at Wimbledon had floated on by when one match lingered in the dusk, and that match happened to be some sort of dreamscape for the nostalgists. Some nostalgists might have had a drink even.
One would be 36-year-old Jamie Murray from Scotland, whose mixed-doubles title with Jelena Jankovic here in 2007 rollicked as much as any mixed-doubles title has ever rollicked — there was a durable standing ovation — brought a first major title to the two Murray brothers who include Andy and set Jamie Murray along his way to seven Grand Slam doubles titles, two in doubles and five in mixed.
The other would be his 42-year-old teammate, also named Venus.
“I had no plan to play,” Venus Williams would say afterward. “I saw the grass, and I got excited.”
Mercy, she looked happy, and not just because of their 6-3, 6-7 (7-3), 6-3 first-round win that sent them into an exhilarated hug. Whereas her news conferences in latter years could tilt toward excruciating, a weariness having settled in across her two-plus decades of fame and answers, she reappeared Friday after a 10-month absence and brought along her wink and wit.
“Are you guys in it to win it,” one question went, “or just to get past the third round?” — in which Serena Williams and Andy Murray lost in mixed doubles in 2019.
“What kind of question is that?” Venus Williams beamed. “We’re in it for a stroll. C’mon.”
“Are you here for the experience, or are you going to go all the way?”
“Huh?” Williams said.
“Are you going to write a good article or a halfway decent one?” she chirped.
The partnership seemed to pop up out of the ether just as this Wimbledon dragged out the tennis balls and got going. “Venus’s coach texted me asking if I wanted to play,” Murray said. “Last year she asked me, but I hurt my neck. So I was like, I want to do both [with doubles as well]. Can’t say no twice. We’re playing. It was a lot of fun tonight. We had a good time. So nice to play on Court 1, a load of people come out to watch or stay out to watch. Yeah, it was cool. I really, really enjoyed it. Amazing to be on court with such a champion.”
“I’ve been trying to play with him forever,” Williams said. “He plays hard to get.”
She noted the technicality that she hasn’t won a mixed-doubles title here to place among her five singles plates and six doubles cups. “It’s one of the only ones I haven’t won,” she said, “so I usually put a little more priority here. It was definitely super last-minute. Just inspired by Serena [and her return in singles]. . . . I was just so happy to have so much help today.”
“You played great,” Murray replied. “Like, she hasn’t played for a long time. First match, big court, a lot of people. It’s not easy.”
It all happened 15 years after they shared a heyday of a closing weekend at ages 27 and 21, that weekend in 2007. Williams had dipped to No. 31 in the world but came zooming back to a fourth Wimbledon singles title and said: “I don’t take anything for granted anymore. I did, but not anymore.” Murray won with Jankovic and joked about the victory kiss as motivation, whereupon a reporter asked whether Murray had a girlfriend and he said, “No,” then asked whether Jankovic had a boyfriend and she, puckish as ever, said, “I have lots.”
Now Williams and Murray have 15 more years and umpteen more hubbubs outside of tennis, and the feeling of Williams here is almost similar to when Martina Navratilova would play mixed doubles in her beyond-40 years, but the grass …
“I was at the French Open, it’s a beautiful event, but my heart didn’t beat the same way,” Williams said. “Not that I could play, but … I had no plans. That’s why I was asking him last minute. He just had a baby, too, so I know there’s a lot going on. Definitely I couldn’t have guessed that I would be here right now, taking it at the last minute. I haven’t played in a year, so you don’t know what you’re going to get. Practice is so much different from a match.”
So: “Just at the (ending) it was like, ‘Oh, my god, wow. I just not only played a match but won a match. I’m never, like, that kind of player. I always expect to win. But when I sat there, when I sat there at the end, it was, like, real.
“Yeah, I felt something in my heart.”
“Yeah, it was everything it was cracked up to be,” Murray said. “Excited to get another match on Sunday or Monday, whenever that is.”
Williams had not played since last August in Chicago, a 6-2, 6-3 loss to Su-Wei Hsieh of Taiwan, shortly after reaching the second round in singles here last year. Her ranking stood then at No. 147. It stands after the inactivity at No. 570. It does not matter. Call her No. 1 in serendipity, and call their team an ongoing event.
“I was very busy when I wasn’t on tour,” said Williams, nowadays awash in projects. “It’s easier to be on tour than off tour. I should just come on back so I can sleep a little more. I have a lot of work off tour. I’m a professional athlete, so that’s who I am. But I’ll be all right without. I’ll be all right if I’m here. I’ll be all right if I’m not. But I’m a professional athlete.”