The first piece of silverware has been settled at the US Open. The big match experience of Max Mirnyi helped the Belarusian and his team mate Andrea Hlavackova seal a straight set victory over Santiago Gonzalez and Abigail Spears. The North American duo were playing in a grand slam final for the first time in their careers. Mirnyi made the most of his experience to clinch a straight forward 7-6, 6-3 victory in an hour and 26 minutes to clinch his tenth grand slam crown.
The 32-year-old Spears had never been past the quarters of a grand slam event, just the same as her Mexican partner, Gonzalez. In contrast, the 36-year-old Mirnyi has an incredible 9-0 record in doubles finals at grand slam events. The Belarusian has six men’s doubles titles, including two US Open in 2000 and 2002.
Out of Mirnyi’s three mixed doubles titles, one has come with Serena Williams and another with Victoria Azarenka at the US Open. The third mixed doubles victory was also with Serena at Wimbledon. His 27-year-old Czech partner was a women’s doubles winner at the French Open in 2011 with Lucie Hradecka, but this was her first mixed doubles final.
Gonzalez and Spears turned the I-Formation into an effective weapon against their opponents, poaching the returns early and creaming winners to hold serve easily. The North American duo took a 2-1 lead, with an opportunity to have a look at the Hlavá?ková delivery in game four.
At 40-30, Mirnyi moved across at the net in anticipation of a cross-court return. But he moved too early and the wily Spears used the space to cream a backhand return winner through the tramlines to set up deuce and break point. They capitalized on the opportunity and consolidated again at deuce in the next game to take a 4-1 lead.
In the sixth game, Mirnyi- Hlavá?ková fell behind 15-40. But Mirnyi attacked at the net to claw back by winning the next three points and ensure that they did not slip any further. Spears though had a poor service game and their opponents took advantage to bring the set back on serve in the seventh game.
Play remained on serve and it eventually fell to Hlavackova to hold serve and force the tie-breaker. Spears and Gonzalez struck a mean volley each to earn two set points. Hlavackova saved the first with a serve wide off the forehand of Gonzalez. Mirnyi helped save the next with a backhand volley winner into the tramlines.
In the ensuing tiebreaker, Gonzalez was the one to blink first. He floored a volley into the net to gift Mirnyi-Hlavackova a 3-1 lead. The lead was consolidated to 5-2 when Spears mistimed a high volley. The lack of experience of the North American duo came to the fore, when Gonzalez clubbed an easy volley into the net to offer two set points to their opponents at 6-3.
But a gritty display from Gonzalez and Spears helped them prevent Mirnyi from serving out the set as they clawed back to 5-6. Unfortunately they undid all that effort when Spears sent another volley crashing into the net to end the first set.
In the second game of the second set, Gonzalez let one go but it landed on the line to hand break point to Mirnyi-Hlavackova. When the Mexican let another go, there was no call from the linesman effectively handing the break. But Gonzalez-Spears challenged and hawk-eye showed that the ball was indeed long. A powerful backhand volley from Gonzalez ensured the hold on the next point.
At 15-30 in the fourth game, Gonzalez was wrong footed by a brilliant Mirnyi return that gave them an important break point. Another wonderful reflex put away by Mirnyi set them firmly on the road to glory at 3-1. But in the very next game, Gonzalez-Spears fought back to force deuce before neutralizing the break when Hlavackova dumped an easy put away into the net.
Mirnyi served out the first love game of the match to go up 4-3 and keep his team slightly ahead, just two games from grand slam glory. Mirnyi accepted a juicy offering to strike a thumping smash to earn break point in the eighth game. Gonzalez saved the first with a put away volley, but at deuce, Spears made a fatal double fault to surrender the vital break.
A return from Spears flew high and long to offer Mirnyi-Hlavackova three match points at 15-40. The Belarusian fired a huge serve to the backhand of Spears before polishing the point with a volley winner to clinch the match and pick his third mixed doubles crown at the US Open. However, it was the first major title for the 27-year-old from the Czech Republic.
The winners took home a glittering trophy and a cheque for $150,000. The losers were to content themselves with a silver salvo and a cheque for $70,000. Gonzalez and Spears had more winners, 30-28, but compensated by making three more unforced errors than their opponents. The unseeded pair also failed to take advantage of their opportunities – managing to convert just 2 of 10 break point chances as they succumbed to the better organised seventh seeded duo in straight sets.