Rajeev Ram became the oldest first-time ATP Doubles World No. 1 on 3rd October, 2022. Speaking along the sidelines of the ATP Rolex Paris Masters, Ram talks about how it feels to achieve a feat that seemed so distant for so long. Ram also mentions that he is looking to finish the year strong, hoping to peak at the two big season-ending tournaments – the Rolex Paris Masters and the World Tour Finals.
Q) You became the oldest ever first-time World No.1 last month (18 years after turning pro in 2004). How was that feeling?
RR: It was a pretty strange feeling for me to be honest. My partner (Joe Salisbury) and I have been one of the better teams for some time now. He became the World No. 1 in April this year, but it was because of a bit of a technicality. Because we played just one tournament separately (where Salisbury gained extra points). So I thought it wouldn’t be that much different.
But actually, when I saw my name with the number next to it, it was crazy. It was one of those things when you start playing, it just seems so far away to be actually be number one in the world. I didn’t really start playing doubles until 2017, so it wasn’t a focus of mine. But even at that point, it seemed so far away.
Being number one takes a lot of (ranking) points, many good results, and so much consistency. So you are never sure if it is actually going to happen. So to see it actually happen was really amazing.
Q) Now that you’ve reached the pinnacle of the sport, how tough is it to keep yourself motivated for more?
RR: It just happened (he became No.1 just 3 weeks earlier). So there are still things I want to achieve. We’ve won a Grand Slam for the last three years running, but we’ve never won the French Open and Wimbledon together. We’ve never finished the year as the World No.1 team. So there are still things that I want to achieve.
Every time you come to a tournament like this in Paris, it’s a huge event and this is what we play for. So I don’t see it being an issue. I play because I love to play and I love the competition. Not so much the other things, although they feel really nice when they happen. As long as that love is still there, the motivation will be there too.
Q) You’ve been playing doubles for years, but do you think things changed when you quit singles in 2017 and decided to focus on it full-time?
RR: Yes. Look, some of these guys are good enough players to play success in both singles and doubles, win Majors and big tournaments. I am not like that. If I were to win big tournaments, I needed to focus only on doubles. It was just a matter of what my body could handle, and I wasn’t able to do it. So definitely, quitting singles has been a huge reason for my success in doubles.
Q) You won the Paris-Bercy title with Granollers in 2018. How do you think the courts (or indoor surfaces, in general) match up to your game style?
RR: I think I actually have played quite well here in the past. I am okay indoors. I grew up playing a lot indoors in America, as I am from a place that is pretty cold. Even the years I haven’t won here, I’ve done pretty well. So I think the courts do suit me, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to win every time (laughs). So I am looking forward to the week here.
Q) A lot of players have a special place in their heart for Paris. Are you one of them?
RR: To be honest with you, unfortunately not (laughs). I probably prefer some other cities. But it’s okay. We come here twice a year every year, and I probably enjoy this time of the year a little bit more because of the season and playing indoors. I’ve played well here before so I hope that will be enough.
Q) We are seeing a lot of Indian origin players make their mark in the American junior circuits. You’ve been the flag-bearer for the community for so many years. What are your thoughts on the same?
RR: I certainly hope that there are going to be more behind me that will come. I think so many first generation Americans of Indian origin, like myself, play Tennis. There is no reason why a lot more of them cannot play high level College Tennis or even Pro Tennis and make careers out of it.
There are so many that are so good. If I can provide some motivation to them, that’s wonderful. But I do think there is a good opportunity there. It’s so great to see the numbers growing and genuinely hope that somebody comes along behind me.
Q) It’s the end of the year. Tired bodies and minds. How do you approach the last couple of tournaments?
RR: I think we have done a pretty good job this year of spacing our schedule out. We had a long break after the US Open. We had another break after Wimbledon. So we can hopefully peak at these last two tournaments. Obviously, this is a big event and the next one in Turin is one of the biggest events there are. So I think we are hungry and motivated, and good scheduling has been pretty important for the same.
Q) We have 9 Indian players in the Doubles Top 150, and could potentially play the Grand Slams next year. How does it feel to have so many Indian players around on the Tour with you?
RR: It feels great. I identify with the Indian players the most than other players, given the same culture and heritage. My best friends are Indian or Indian-origin. I think it’s awesome that there’s that many players and there will be more in the future, even on the singles side of things.
Indians do really well in doubles because most of them have very good natural hand and net skills, which come in really handy in doubles. They’ve also had a lot of people to look up to in doubles that have been doing so well, both in men’s and women’s. To see someone like Bops (Rohan Bopanna) who’s 42 years old, still in the Top 20, even for me it’s inspiring. He’s a great example and hopefully all the others will follow along.