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To Know Mixed Doubles’ Place in Tennis, Look at the Prize Money

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WIMBLEDON, England — According to the authoritative new book “The Birth of Lawn Tennis” by Bob Everitt and Richard Hillway, when Maj. Walter Clopton Wingfield published the first set of rules for the sport in 1873, the lone illustration showed a mixed doubles match.

Men and women playing together, at both recreational and professional levels, has always been a signature of tennis. Other sports are trying to catch up; the 2020 Olympics will feature mixed events added to shooting, table tennis, swimming, track and field and triathlon. Alpine skiing had an Olympic mixed team competition for the first time this year.

But in tennis, the mixed competition is stagnant. While mixed doubles is still played at the four Grand Slam events, the format has not been added to any of the many combined ATP-WTA tournaments on tour, despite being added to the Olympic slate in 2012. The Hopman Cup, an event each January in Perth, Australia, is the official mixed event of the International Tennis Federation, but it is set to end after next year to make way for a men’s-only competition.

The most telling atrophy of mixed doubles might be seen in the prize money at Grand Slam tournaments. Mixed doubles players have been left behind as singles and doubles players have successfully lobbied for steep increases in prize money.

At Wimbledon, between 2012 and 2018, first-round prize money has increased by 169 percent in singles and 111 percent in doubles, but by only 25 percent in mixed doubles.

Prize money for the champion has gone up by 95.7 percent in singles and 73.1 in doubles, but only 19.6 in mixed doubles.

Disparities through other rounds and at other Grand Slam events are comparable. The United States Open, which has not yet announced its prize money for this year, has had no increase to mixed doubles prize money since 2012.

That pay gap often comes as an unpleasant surprise to mixed doubles champions.

When Abigail Spears won her first Grand Slam title in the mixed doubles at last year’s Australian Open, she said she was taken aback when she saw her winnings: half of 150,500 Australian dollars (about $111,000), or roughly 20 percent of what the champions in men’s and women’s doubles received.

“There was that first shock when you see the prize money,” Spears said. “And you say, ‘Aw, man, I was thinking this would be more when you win something!’”

Heather Watson reacted similarly when she won the Wimbledon mixed doubles title in 2016 and received only 28.6 of what the doubles champions received.

“I’m not going to turn it down, but yeah, it’s not as much as you thought it was, compared to doubles or singles,” Watson said.

Although entry for mixed doubles events is based on a player’s singles or doubles ranking, the competition itself does not reward any ranking points. For many players, that automatically makes the matches less important.

When told how much he had earned for losing in the first round of mixed doubles — 812.50 pounds, or $1,073 — Thanasi Kokkinakis did not object. (He earned 19,500 pounds — about $25,755 — for losing in the third round of the singles qualifying tournament.)

He called mixed doubles “a bit of fun” and said that it “definitely should have a back seat” if there are no points involved.

Still, he added, “If they keep improving everything else with prize money, mixed should go up — not loads, but a bit.”

Nicole Melichar, an American who has reached the women’s and mixed doubles finals at Wimbledon this year, said she played without pressure in the mixed doubles.

“It’s sort of like singles players when they play doubles: They’re more relaxed, because their main focus is singles,” she said. “My main focus is doubles, so in mixed I’m going to be more relaxed.”

Told that her prize money for reaching the final of women’s doubles would be roughly quadruple her haul for reaching the mixed doubles final, Melichar was unsurprised.

“That would make sense,” she said. “There’s no ranking points in mixed. Players play for pride, because they want to win a trophy. Maybe some of the lower-ranked players try to get in to make extra money, but at the end of the day the top players are playing because they want to win a Grand Slam. Whether it’s singles, doubles or mixed, you’re still a Grand Slam champion. I don’t want to call it an exhibition, because we’re still giving our best and it’s very meaningful, but it’s kind of a bonus.”

Melichar and Alexander Peya will face Jamie Murray and Victoria Azarenka in the mixed doubles final on Sunday.

Jean-Julien Rojer, who reached the quarterfinals of mixed doubles with Demi Schuurs, said retired players had taught him to savor mixed titles to enhance his legacy.

“I was having a conversation yesterday with Todd Woodbridge and Jonas Bjorkman, and they were asking, ‘How many Grand Slams do you have?’” Rojer recalled. “I said, ‘Two doubles and one mixed,’ but I told them I don’t count the mixed. And they said, ‘Don’t be silly, everybody counts the mixed!’ Those guys count everything.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page D3 of the New York edition with the headline: Wondering Where Mixed Doubles Rank? Just Follow the Money. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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