John McEnroe is a renowned U.S. tennis player who was an iconic figure in the sport from the late 1970s through the early 1990s.

In addition to his speed and power, McEnroe possessed a wide arsenal of shots with superb finesse. During his professional career, he won 17 Grand Slam titles.

McEnroe also liked to play doubles. He won his first Grand Slam title when he was 18 years old in the mixed doubles at the 1977 French Open partnering with a woman he had known since they were children.

In recent years, most top-ranking tennis players have focused on singles to avoid wearing themselves out.

McEnroe was known for his temper as much as his tennis, nicknamed “SuperBrat” for his boisterous outbursts of anger during matches and abusive language in protesting calls by umpires.

But McEnroe never showed his trademark aggressive tennis in doubles. During doubles matches, he kept the playing styles and characters of the two players in mind and enjoyed using tactics best suited for the pair.

The way McEnroe played doubles appeared to indicate the depth of his personality.

What reminded me of McEnroe was the outstanding performance of Japan’s mixed doubles pair in a recent international table tennis tournament. Kasumi Ishikawa and her male partner, Maharu Yoshimura, won the mixed doubles title at the 2017 World Championships in Dusseldorf in early June, picking up Japan’s first mixed-doubles gold in 48 years.

The two were both born in 1993, but Ishikawa was a year ahead of Yoshimura at school. They have been a mixed doubles pair for six years.

The 177-centimeter tall Yoshimura towers over Ishikawa, who is 157 centimeters in height. During their matches, the two players with sharply different physiques switched positions smoothly as if flowing.

Their combative postures in singles were replaced by graceful and rhythmic movements in doubles.

Given the significant differences in physique between male and female players, the number of sports where men and women play together is quite limited.

Several co-gender competition events have been added to the program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, including mixed doubles table tennis.

Such mixed team events offer intriguing spectacles of competition whose elements include exquisite chemistry between the male and female players cooperating in great harmony to win.

The increase in the number of events at the Olympics may not be totally welcome news for the organizers and operators. But the mixed team events will no doubt add a new dimension to the way spectators enjoy watching sports.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.