Bud Collins

Vital part of the mix at Open

By Bud Collins
Globe Correspondent / September 10, 2010

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NEW YORK — Oldest game in the world? That’s easy — mixed doubles on a tennis court.

I believe the Dead Sea Scrolls revealed that Adam and Eve won the first Eden Open over a Hittite couple, using apples as balls. Apparently Eve ate some apples, causing Adam to scold her. Then she stepped on a snake, a thoughtless foot fault deranging her game — much like Serena Williams’s meltdown eons later.

Nevertheless, despite the risks of opposite sexes cohabiting a small work space, mixed doubles has a place in our hearts, and a spot on the agenda of the US Championships. It has since 1892. Then Mabel Cahill of Ireland and an American, Clarence Hobart, took the original title, the elder among the mixed majors. Thirteen years later, Hobart reappeared as a married man, and alongside his American bride, Augusta Schultz, seized first prize. Amazing. Unheard of before or since. Husband-wife teams generally go together like peanut butter and Liederkranz.

Teaming up with a spouse can wreck more marriages than eating crackers in bed, says a pal who suffered on court and in court.

Only three other married mixed teams have succeeded: Kitty and Leslie Godfree at Wimbledon in 1926; Harry and Nell Hopman, Australian in 1930, ’36-37, ’39; as well as Marjorie and Jack Crawford, same title in 1931-32-33.

But the only problem yesterday in Arthur Ashe Stadium was the raging here-and-there wind, as the mixed final was played, and won by an old hand at this sort of thing, lefthanded Bob Bryan, in the company of Liezel Huber.

Beating the Czech-Pakistani co-op of Kveta Peschke and Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, 6-4, 6-4, the Americans were never in trouble.

It makes you wonder if Bryan is running a male escort service? He’s the guy to have on your side, ladies, when the dating game comes on, and you need a ruthless serve at your service. He was very pleased to usher 49-year-old Martina Navratilova to the last of her 59 majors, the US Open mixed of 2006.

Five aces and five service winners spun off his racket, and just as much help were the nifty half-volleys that Huber and he executed, stealing points that seemed going the other way.

Bob Bryan, of course, is the 6-foot-4-inch other guy usually with 6-3 Mike, whose identical pursuits of doubles records overflow. This conquest gave Bob the US male record for mixed majors, with seven: four US, two French, one Wimbledon. He trails the 11 held by Aussie Owen Davidson.

Also chasing the men’s doubles majors record, the brothers today aim for their ninth, against Qureshi and Indian Rohan Bopanna. Two more Aussies, John Newcombe and Tony Roche, hold that record at 12.

“But we’re still playing,’’ say the Bryans, whose stash together amounts to 64 men’s trophies, the open era record.

“Just ham and eggs,’’ says Bob, matter of factly. “We had some good reflex volleys for winners, and some very good returns. Both of us, yeah, Liezel — she in the left court — and I went together like ham and eggs. Lost serve only once [to 2-2 in the first], but we broke Qureshi immediately.’’

“The main thing,’’ says Huber, “was to keep telling each other, ‘Be aggressive!’ and we were. We haven’t played a tourney together for a year and a half, and this was only the second time. We were pushing the ball against the kids, [Melanie] Oudin and [Ryan] Harrison, in the second round. That was the only set we lost. After that we got aggressive and had to be, closing with a tiebreaker.’’

On today’s finale, Bob says, “Normally American crowds are for us. But this will be different because they — Qureshi and Bopanna — are such a good story, the Pakistani and the Indian teaming up. And they can play. They beat Mike and me in Washington, so this is the rubber match. I think the crowd will be 51 percent for us.’’

He spoke of a possible tennis players relief fund for the tragedy of flood-ravaged Pakistan. “I’d be for it.’’

Huber, South African born, has been involved in numerous charity programs there, building a school for poor children, and is deep in medical projects.

Liezel turned down Bob’s offer of a famed Bryans chest bump, a crashing celebration of victory. “Do it with your girlfriend, not me,’’ she says, thinking that was carrying mixed “too far and personal.’’

He understood. Whether Adam and Eve chest-bumped after a win is beyond historians. Whatever, Liezel Huber and Bob Bryan cut up $150,000. That’s a lot of apples for having the last dance.