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Mirnyi and Azarenka Take Mixed Doubles Crown
By Brian Cleary
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Down 6-5 in the second-set tiebreak in the US Open mixed doubles final, 18-year-old Victoria Azarenka awaited the serve of her opponent, Meghann Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy’s partner, Leander Paes, was crouched at net, moving back and forth on his toes, making it clear, as he always does, that he was dying to get his hands on Azarenka’s return.
In this position, you would think that Azarenka would try and keep her return away from Paes, a man 16 years older than her, with seven Grand Slam doubles titles to his credit. He's also known for his majestic volleys.
But Azarenka is no normal teenager, and certainly no typical mixed-doubles player. As Azarenka did all match, she drilled her return right at Paes. It was struck so hard Paes could only pop up his volley, and Max Mirnyi, Azarenka’s partner, moved in and put the ball away. Mirnyi and Azarenka, both from Belarus, went on to take the breaker, saving five set-points in the process, and with it the match 6-4, 7-6 (6).
For Mirnyi it was his seventh Grand Slam doubles title—he has now won four men’s doubles Grand Slams and three mixed—and the first US Open mixed doubles title since he won with Serena Williams back in 1998.
The win marks a memorable run for Azarenka at this year’s US Open. She reached the fourth round in the women’s singles draw, losing to the No. 4-seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. The mixed doubles crown marks her first Grand Slam triumph.
“I feel great,’’ she said after the match. “Actually, I don't believe it yet. I'm just at the point that I don't realize we won the Grand Slam. I knew we won the match, but I'm still not there. I'm kind of in a place right now, I don't know where.”
In what is a fairly unusual strategy in mixed doubles, Shaughnessy started serving for her team when the match began, and it was against Shaughnessy’s serve in the fifth game that Mirnyi and Azarenka got their first break to go up 3-2. Serving at 5-4, Mirnyi-Azarenka saved three break points on Mirnyi's serve to take the set 6-4.
Showing confidence in Azarenka, who is 10 years younger than Shaughnessy, the next youngest player on the court, Mirnyi had Azarenka start the second set serving. While she held at love in the opening game, it was her serve that was broken in the fifth game, giving Paes-Shaughnessy their first opening of the match. But Azarenka-Mirnyi broke back in the ninth game, and the players held serve from there to force a tiebreak. Paes-Shaughnessy actually held a 6-2 lead in the tiebreak but lost four straight set points.
Mirnyi and Azarenka first teamed together in a mixed doubles Grand Slam event at this year’s French Open. But their connection goes way back. They are both from Minsk, and while Mirnyi is 12 years older, Azarenka had not only looked up to him but also was a ball girl for one of his Davis Cup matches in Belarus.
“I've known Victoria since she came to play tennis when she was 5 or 6 years old,’’ Minyi said. “As the years go by, Victoria became the best junior, and it didn't take her too long to be one the best professional players now. It's incredible progress she's made. I'm happy to have played with her throughout this year.”
Paes said he was perhaps too fired up for today’s match and was forcing the action a bit too much. But he and Shaughnessy, while disappointed, were in good spirits after the match, highlighting the camaraderie they share that is one of their strengths as a team. They were asked if their success, the first Grand Slam final for Shaughnessy, would cause them to play at the Australian Open in January. They looked at each other and laughed.
“Would you like to do it?’’ Paes asked.
“Yeah, let’s go,’’ said Shaughnessy.
But they will have to wait at least four months to get another shot at a Grand Slam. Mirnyi and Azarenka will savor their's tonight.
Mirnyi, while knowing he had picked a good mixed doubles partner, is very aware of Azarenka’s tremendous singles potential as well. “Hopefully Victoria can learn from this win and become a great [singles] player,’’ he said. Mirnyi and Azarenka earned $150,000 for their victory.