LONDON, Great Britain - The unseeded scratch pairing of Victoria Azarenka and Jamie Murray are making a habit of battling comebacks, coming from a set down to win a pulsating two-hour, 23-minute thriller 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 over No.4 seeds Demi Schuurs and Jean-Julien Rojer.
The first round saw the British-Belarusian duo come from a set down to defeat Lucie Hradecka and Roman Jebavy 6-7(2), 6-4, 6-4; in the second, they would overturn a 1-5 final set deficit, saving one match point, to beat No.7 seeds Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Robert Farah 7-6(6), 6-7(6), 7-5; and in the third, they trailed No.12 seeds Johanna Larsson and Matwe Middelkoop by 1-5 in the first-set tiebreak before winning 7-6(6), 6-3.
Azarenka and Murray are a last-minute partnership - and although Schuurs and Rojer were barely more experienced together, having only previously played alongside each other at the Australian Open in January, the Dutch duo's superior teamwork was initially the deciding factor.
For much of the match, Schuurs and Rojer's ability to set each other up with volley putaways via pinpoint placement was the hallmark of a pair in perfect sync. By contrast, Azarenka and Murray would too frequently find themselves on the same side of the court, sometimes hustling for the same ball.
Moreover, neither began the match serving at their best. Murray was forced to save four break points in his first two service games, and both Schuurs and Rojer proved able to tee off on the 32-year-old's delivery for clean winners. Azarenka's serve also fell prey to the Dutch team's aggressive returning in the seventh game - but unlike Murray, who contrived to escape with the hold thanks to big serving, the Belarusian conceded the only break of the set with a double fault.
Loose errors from Schuurs conceded her service at the start of the second set, but the 24-year-old redeemed herself immediately as a searing forehand winner captured the Murray delivery in the very next game. But as the set reached its climax, it was the home favorite and the former World No.1 who became more inspired. With Azarenka serving at 5-5, Rojer would swarm the net, scything angled volleys and slamming smashes. But when Schuurs was unable to put returns in play on two set points, Azarenka sensed opportunity. Slamming down two more service winners to hold, the 29-year-old's feared return finally clicked in the next game to set up set point - which was taken as a Schuurs forehand found the net.
The stage was set for a classic final set, and all four players rose to the occasion. It was Azarenka who began the decider in a purple patch, volleying and hustling for all she was worth. However, the 2012 mixed doubles gold medallist was also the only player to face a break point for 11 games, in the seventh game, fended off with one of several magnificent rallies - this time ended with a canny Murray volley behind Schuurs.
With Rojer's serve impregnable throughout the match - the 36-year-old would concede only five points behind it - Schuurs was targeted relentlessly by her opponents. The Dutchwoman was also the only player on court who has not yet won a mixed doubles Slam - indeed, this fortnight is the first time she has progressed beyond the quarterfinals in any senior discipline. The doubles World No.16 did herself proud, demonstrating superb court awareness and reflexes at net - but nonetheless, it was inevitably her serve that would eventually come under pressure, as it did in the 12th game of the set.
There have been many classic games played at this year's Championships across the various events, and the final game of today's match was up there with the very best. Across nine deuces, both pairings vied to come out on top of a number of thrilling exchanges, using every inch of the court and angles of seemingly impossible sharpness. The Schuurs forehand was on song, nailing two spectacular groundstroke winners; the Azarenka return oscillated, as she squandered her team's first two match points with errant responses to inoffensive Schuurs serves. But on their fifth match point, yet another breathtaking rally ended as Murray firmly stuck a volley down the middle.
Murray is going for his fourth mixed doubles Slam title, having lifted the trophy here in 2007 (with Jelena Jankovic) and 2017 (with Martina Hingis), as well as the 2017 US Open with Hingis, while Azarenka is seeking to add a third mixed doubles Slam to her collection - and first for over a decade, having been the champion at the 2007 US Open (with Max Mirnyi) and Roland Garros 2008 (with Bob Bryan). Having ridden a wave of home support to this point, though, the duo can no longer be assured of it in the next round - as they face local wildcards Harriet Dart and Jay Clarke.
The British youngsters have been carving a path of upsets through the draw, and they continued to add to their list of scalps with a tightly-fought 7-6(10), 7-5 victory over No.10 seeds Abigail Spears and Juan Sebastián Cabal.
In the bottom half of the draw, meanwhile, No.11 seeds Nicole Melichar and Alexander Peya were handed a walkover by No.2 seeds Ekaterina Makarova and Bruno Soares. The American-Austrian pair will face either No.3 seeds Latisha Chan and Ivan Dodig or No.9 seeds Katarina Srebotnik and Michael Venus in the semifinals.