Photo: Eisele/Giubilo/ZimmerMax Mirnyi (BLR) and Victoria Azarenka (BLR)
LONDON, GREAT BRITAIN: Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi have won the mixed doubles gold medal at London 2012 to become the first Olympic tennis champions from Belarus. Azarenka had already become the first Belarusian to win a medal of any colour, defeating Maria Kirilenko to claim singles bronze, but she trumped that today by successfully teaming up with Mirnyi.
It was also a historic moment for the mixed doubles event, as it was making a comeback to the Olympics as a full medal sport for the first time since Paris 1924. Americans Dick Williams and Hazel Wightman held the title for 88 years, but the mantle has now been passed on to Azarenka and Mirnyi.
The Belarusian pair were the No. 1 seeds in the mixed doubles draw, courtesy of Azarenka’s top singles ranking and Mirnyi’s top doubles ranking, and they lived up to the billing as they triumphed 26 63 [10-8] in the final against British duo Laura Robson and Andy Murray.
Murray, clearly buoyed by his gold medal exploits against Roger Federer earlier in the day, was on fire when the match got under way on a busy Centre Court. The Belarusian pair couldn’t keep it off his racket, and Murray produced a string of impressive points to help the Brits jump into a 4-0 lead.
Azarenka and Mirnyi rallied, holding a couple of serves, but the damage had already been done and the British team clinched the first set 6-2 in 30 minutes. However, it was important for the Belarusians to get off the mark because the match was threatening to run away from them, and those two holds of serve gave them a foothold to build on in the second set.
The No. 1 seeds started the second set as they finished the first, and got the break they were looking for in the fourth game on Robson’s serve. More and more, Azarenka and Mirnyi were hitting the ball to Robson, clearly seeing the 18-year-old left-hander as the weaker link. The tactic began to pay dividends.
In a set dominated by serve, there was only the one break point in the fourth game, so the match trundled towards a deciding match tiebreak. Azarenka and Mirnyi wrapped up the set 6-3 in 29 minutes, and attentions immediately turned to the impending 10-point shoot-out.
Robson got the Brits off to the worst possible start by double faulting on the opening point, and Mirnyi capitalised by serving to take a 3-0 lead. However, Robson and Murray dragged themselves back to 3-3 at the first change of ends.
After Azarenka made it 4-3, Robson double faulted for a second time to land the Brits back in trouble. However, they dug deep once more and fought back to 6-6 at the second change of ends.
The Brits just couldn’t get their noses in front and three quick-fire points gave the Belarus pair three gold medal points. The first two were saved on Robson’s serve, but at 9-8 Mirnyi sent down a bomb towards Murray, who spooned a returned down the line where Azarenka was on hand at the net to finish off the point.
“The feeling I had yesterday on the court, just also winning a bronze, it was absolutely amazing,” said Azarenka. “It's been a dream come true for me to achieve gold because I think every athlete in the world is dreaming about this prize to get. You don't get so many chances.
“We just tried to focus and tried to get one of the chances because they were playing absolutely amazing,” added the world No. 1. “We just tried to stay and fight as much as we could. Once we had the chance, we were just really focused on that.”