John Isner relishes the notion of serving for an Olympic Gold Medal against a woman, and it could happen at the 2012 London Games. Mixed-doubles is back and the 6-foot 9-inch Isner is ready to play. His only previous mixed-doubles experience came in the Hopman Cup where he remembers facing Justine Henin in the final, a seven-time Grand Slam champion.
"I aced her about 15 times," Isner said. "Obviously, she has unbelievable returns, but she's also kind of small. I kept hitting the serve out wide."
Olympic officials decided in 2009 to revive mixed-doubles, a fixture at Grand Slam tournaments. The event this year will be limited to 16 teams, meaning only two victories are needed to reach the medal round. The mixed event was part of several Olympics early in the 20th Century, and the most recent, gold medalists were Hazel Wightman & Titanic survivor Richard Williams of the United States at the 1924 Games in Paris. Tennis was then dropped from the Olympics but returned as a medal event in 1988 without mixed-doubles.
"You win two matches, and you're looking pretty good for a medal, it’s the easiest shot at a medal." said American Bob Bryan.
However, some of the world's top ranked players including Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova are among those who plan to skip mixed-doubles event and focus on other events.
"I'm not playing mixed-doubles because I already have singles and doubles," Djokovic said. "I think it would be a little bit too much."
Court positioning is critical, and if both players on a team are compelled to retreat to the baseline when receiving serve, they're likely in trouble. Poaching is more common than in other doubles matches, and players hit a lot of volleys and smashes. There's more to mixed-doubles than merely overpowering an opponent.