Ram, Salisbury dash home hopes in men's doubles final

  • Reem Abulleil

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury reflected on the difficult times they endured in their respective journeys en route to their first Grand Slam men’s doubles title triumph – individually and as a team – at Melbourne Park on Sunday.

The 35-year-old Ram and 27-year-old Salisbury dashed home hopes by defeating Aussie wildcards Max Purcell and Luke Saville 6-4 6-2, dropping just seven points on serve and wrapping up the win in 70 minutes at Rod Laver Arena to be crowned Australian Open champions.

It’s been a long road for Ram, who switched his focus solely to doubles three years ago after a singles career that saw him peak at 56 in the world in 2016. The American lifted his first men’s doubles major title on his 58th appearance. It’s an Open Era record for most attempts before winning a Grand Slam men’s doubles trophy.

Ram lost his father last April to pancreatic cancer, and paid tribute to him after his success on Sunday.

“The last years have been tough for me. He was the one that started me in tennis. Played every day from when I could remember things until I was about 12 years old,” said the Olympic mixed doubles silver medallist.

“When something like that happens, it shakes you pretty good. I'm an only child. Coming from the cultural background that I do, family is quite tight. We did a lot of things together. It was hard, for sure.

“But I got lucky to be married to a great person. We got married in 2016. She comes from a big family. They've been great support for my mom and I both.

“It's been challenging, but sometimes that stuff, when it happens, makes these moments be a little bit more sweet. Obviously I wish all the world that my dad could have seen this. I think I've done well to make him proud, hopefully.”

All four players on the court were bidding for a first Slam trophy in men’s doubles but it was Ram and Salisbury – competing as a team for a fifth time at a major – who got to hit that milestone.

Ram became the first American, other than the Bryan brothers, to win the men’s doubles trophy at the Australian Open since Rick Leach tasted success with South African Ellis Ferreira in 2000.

Meanwhile, Salisbury is just the second British man in the Open Era – after Jamie Murray – to take home the doubles crown in Melbourne. The Londoner, who like Ram played college tennis in the US, admits there were times he doubted he would achieve something like this in the sport.

“I think during my juniors, I barely played for sort of three years leading up to college, when I had glandular fever, a lot of injuries,” said Salisbury, who will become No.4 in the world on Monday.

“Then I was going to college, not really sure what I wanted to do, if I wanted to play professionally after. Then I decided I did want to give it a go.

“For the first couple of years after, there were definitely times where I wasn't sure if I wanted to do it, wasn't making any money, wasn't making a living out of it.

“Even when I made the switch to doubles, still spent some time playing the Challengers, maybe not getting up the rankings as quickly as I wanted to up until the Wimbledon semifinal [in 2018].

“There were definitely times where I guess I questioned whether I did want to keep doing it. But I think deep down I've always known that I really did want to. If I could do it, if there was a chance I could do it, make a career out of it, it is what I love doing. Definitely glad that I kept going.”

The American-British duo put pressure on their opponents from the start, but they needed eight break points before they finally converted an opportunity and surged ahead, taking the opening set in 42 minutes. Things got less complicated for Ram and Salisbury in the second set, and it wasn’t long before they were receiving the winners’ trophy from Australian legend Tony Roche.

Ram thanked his wife, team and his coaches, past and present, including tournament director Craig Tiley, who actually recruited the American to the University of Illinois a little less than two decades ago.

“I've known him probably since I was 17 years old,” said Ram of Tiley. “Won my first Slam here last year at the mixed. I had a picture of us on our recruiting trip that I found in my mom's closet. We've had a relationship for a really long time. Been amazing to see the things he's been able to do at every job he seems to get.”

Purcell and Saville were looking to become the first all-Australian team to win the men’s doubles title in Melbourne since Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde in 1997.

Despite their disappointment with the result, Saville is certain they can walk away with many positives from their fortnight at the Australian Open.

“It's been great fun to share the court with a really good mate,” said Saville.

“And to win five matches at a Grand Slam, it's amazing. It wasn't the result we wanted today. We played well first round, to knock off the eighth seeds in the second round in an epic was amazing.

“Probably the semi [was a highlight], to come from a set down against the fourth seeds, and even our third round, on Show Court 3, on Australia Day, was a joke.

“Just the whole week. We even played pretty well in the singles. Maxie qualified, which was huge for him as well. I lost second round in a heartbreaker which was tough. But we can really build on this Aussie Open, honestly, it's been a roller coaster, it's been long few weeks for us, we're gonna take a few days to digest the result. It really sets up our year, honest.”