At the beginning of the 2020 Australian Open tennis tournament, Rajeev Ram held a streak he was elated to see broken at the end.
Ram had competed in 57 ATP major men’s doubles tournaments without ever making it to a final. In his 58th event, he and Britain’s Joe Salisbury not only reached the final Down Under, they won the title.
For such perseverance, Ram earned the distinction of having played in more major men’s doubles tournaments before winning a title than anyone else in ATP history. And he could not have been happier about his achievement.
“Wow. We are over the moon Down Under,” Ram posted on his Facebook Australian Open page after hoisting the winner’s trophy. “Ecstatic to win my second major title and first Grand Slam men’s double championship.”Embed from Getty Images
Ram is the first Hindu-American to win a Grand Slam men’s doubles title on the ATP World Tour. Last year, he teamed with Barbara Krejcikova of the Czech Republic to win the Australian Open mixed doubles crown.
I reached out to Ram via his Facebook page to confirm his status as the only Hindu-American to have won a professional major tennis tournament and how he felt about it.
“Yes,” he replied, “I am proud of my achievements and what they mean.”
I have long admired Ram, 35, a 16-year ATP veteran, and his old-school serve-and-volley game patterned after his idol Pete Sampras in an era of baseline tennis.
At 6’4″, Ram has a graceful Sampras-like serve, an easy gait and smooth groundstrokes. His court demeanor is as serene as they come. His nickname is Rampras because of the similarity of his serve to that of the 14-time Grand Slam winner.
Quite frankly, I was surprised to learn Ram would be vying for his first major title going into this year’s Australian Open finals. He had such a successful run over a two-year period with South African Raven Klaasen that I was sure they had won a major.
Between June 2015 and June 2017, the duo appeared in 11 finals, including the 2016 ATP year-end championships, and won five titles. But the biggest crown they captured was at Indian Wells, a Masters 1000 event, in 2017.
The Australian Open championship was Ram’s 20th ATP doubles title. He moved to a career-high No. 5 in the ATP rankings.
Ram, whose parents are from Bangalore, India, was born in Denver. (His father passed last April.) He lived in the Bay Area and in Madison, Wis., before his family moved to Indiana where he won the state championship while a student at Carmel High School.
As a junior, Ram won nine national titles. He turned pro in 2004 after attending the University of Illinois for a year in which he helped lead the school to a 32-0 record and the 2003 NCAA championship. He also won the NCAA national doubles crown that year.
It’s not surprising that Ram’s only two ATP singles titles came on a grass court, both at the Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, RI. Overall, he was 57-93 as a singles player with a career-high ranking of No. 56, attained in April 2016.
At the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Ram won a Silver Medal in mixed doubles with Venus Williams. They lost in the finals to Americans Jack Sock and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Following that accomplishment, Ram talked about his Hindu faith and how it has helped him in his tennis career.
“Part of the Hindu religion teaches, more so than anything else, your control of your mind – your self-control, basically,” Ram told The Washington Post. “Obviously, your body’s going to do what your mind tells it to do. If you can have that inner control, a sense of peace, your body’s going to follow.”
Ram set singles aside after 2016 to concentrate on doubles. One of the marks of a standout doubles player is being able to win with different partners.
Ram has a 303-246 career doubles record, racking up 20 titles with 11 different partners. In 2018, he appeared in six finals with five different partners. He won three of those events, including the Paris Masters with Spaniard Marcel Granollers.
Perhaps Ram’s compatibility on the doubles court is what sparked Salisbury, 27, to reach out to him near the start of 2019.Embed from Getty Images
They won three titles during the season, including the Dubai Championships last March. They also qualified for the 2019 men’s doubles year-end championships in London.
The Australian Open was also Salisbury’s first major title. During the post-match ceremony, he expressed his gratitude to Ram for teaming up with him.
“I don’t think I thought when I asked you to play just over a year ago that we’d be standing here now, but it’s been an honor to play with you,” Salisbury said. “It’s been so much fun to have you as my partner and as my friend. Thank you so much for being the best partner I could get.”