Andy Murray has not played a competitive mixed doubles match for six years but such is the 25-year-old Scot's determination to win an Olympic medal that he has entered this week's tournament here at the All England Club.
Murray, who reached the third round of the singles thanks to a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Jarkko Nieminen yesterday, will partner Laura Robson, whose run in the singles ended with a battling 7-6, 6-3 defeat to Maria Sharapova. Heather Watson also went out to a Russian, losing 6-3, 6-2 to Maria Kirilenko.
Murray twice played alongside Robson in the Hopman Cup in Perth, but players generally regard that competition as an exhibition event in which to hone their game in the build-up to the Australian Open.
The Scot has only ever played three matches in mixed doubles at Grand Slam tournaments, at Wimbledon in 2005 and 2006. He lost his only match with Israel's Shahar Peer and won once alongside Belgium's Kirsten Flipkens.
The world No 4 lost in the first round of the men's doubles here playing with his brother, Jamie, who might have fancied his own chances of featuring in the mixed event, having won Wimbledon with Jelena Jankovic in 2007 and reached the final at the 2008 US Open with Liezel Huber. Britain applied for two of the four wild cards but were granted only one.
Andy Murray said he would have played in the mixed doubles, for which the field was announced yesterday, even if he was still in the men's doubles. "Obviously, it would have been a lot of tennis to play, but like I'm sure a lot of the athletes are saying, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity to try to win a medal at your home Games," he said.
Robson first suggested to Murray four months ago that they could play together here. "I just said that I hadn't got a partner, and if he's interested, then I'm available," she said.
When asked about his partner Murray said he had listened to the advice of other members of the British team. "Heather Watson has played some very good doubles this year and is our No 1 player as well, so it's obviously tough for her, but tough decisions have to be made sometimes," he said.
With just 16 teams in the mixed event, only three wins would secure a bronze medal. Murray and Robson have a reasonable draw, with the Czechs Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecka their first-round opponents.
Mixed doubles is returning to the Olympics after an absence of 88 years. The last champions, in 1924, were Dick Williams, who survived the Titanic, and Hazel Wightman, who established the now defunct Wightman Cup women's team event.
Murray needed only 61 minutes to beat Nieminen under the Centre Court roof on another rain-interrupted day. The Scot, serving well and striking the ball beautifully, looked in top form throughout. He now plays Marcos Baghdatis, whom he has beaten in their last three encounters, most recently here less than five weeks ago.
Baghdatis reached the last 16 by beating France's Richard Gasquet 6-4, 6-4, after which the 27-year-old Cypriot kissed the grass, crossed himself and looked to the heavens. "I want to thank whoever is up there that is giving me the chance to be part of this life," he said afterwards. "I'm in the last 16 of an Olympic event and that's an incredible thing for me."
While Watson rarely looked in contention against Kirilenko, who is the world No 15, Robson provided a tough test for Sharapova, who won by exactly the same score when they met at Wimbledon last year. The 18-year-old was within two points of taking the first set tie-break when she led 5-4, only for Sharapova to win the next three points in succession.
"I felt it was much closer on her service games [than last year]," Robson said. "She had to go for everything on her second serve."
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Milos Raonic 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 in a match that lasted three minutes short of four hours and broke two Olympic records. Novak Djokovic, having struggled in the first round, looked comfortable in beating Andy Roddick 6-2, 6-1.