Tennis: With 106 wins, 11 titles and nearly $10 million in prize money between them, Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka have been 2013's two outstanding performers, and on Sunday afternoon they will meet in the final of the US Open.
And ahead of their showdown on Ashe, who better to pass judgment on the two protagonists than a man who helped both to taste Grand Slam glory for the first time.
Max Mirnyi partnered teenage versions of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka to the mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon and the US Open, respectively, and is happy to have played a part in shaping the career paths of two modern greats.
"They have had such prosperous and long careers after that first title they won," Mirnyi said in his press conference after partnering Andre Hlavackova to the mixed doubles title on Friday. "That first title hopefully gave them the push to believe that's what Grand Slam tennis is all about."
In 1998, Mirnyi partnered a 16-year-old Williams to the first really significant silverware of her career in the mixed doubles at Wimbledon and then the US Open. One year later, the beaded and beaming face of the younger Williams sister was holding aloft the singles trophy in front of an awe-struck crowd on Arthur Ashe.
Nearly a decade later, Mirnyi was savoring further silverware on Ashe, this time alongside fellow Belarusian Azarenka. Yet despite their obvious gifts, Mirnyi could not have foreseen the trophy-laden years that were to follow.
"Both of them were so young at the time," Mirnyi said. "No one could have predicted that they would have the careers they're having today and would win so many more major titles.
"I'm happy and proud to have been part of those moments. Looking back, they probably would have been as good no matter what, but I was just lucky to be in the moment where they decided to play mixed when they were so young."
Mirnyi is also hoping that this fortnight's success can help spur his current mixed partner to more glory.
"Now it's Andrea's turn to keep the tradition going," he added. "She's a little bit older, but there is still much more ahead of her.
"She's a great player. We already know about her doubles success and she's still so fit and plays a lot of singles so I'm sure this is going to help her feel more comfortable on the singles court."
Tennis World Magazine - issue 27
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