MELBOURNE, February 2, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)
Thirty-five year-old Rajeev Ram from the United States is no stranger to playing in major doubles events. Sunday at the Australian Open, the American from California appeared in his 58th Grand Slam – and finally got to lift his first men’s doubles major trophy, teamed with Joe Salisbury, 27, of Great Britain.
The No. 11 seeds Ram and Salisbury beat Australian wild cards Max Purcell and Luke Saville, 6-4, 6-2 in 70 minutes to win. In doing so, Ram set an Open Era record for most attempts before winning a Grand Slam men’s doubles trophy.
Ram, who won an Olympic mixed doubles silver medal with Venus Williams at the 2016 Rio Games, switched his focus to doubles full time in 2017 after a singles career that stalled with a peak ranking of No. 56 back in 2016. Since then, he’s gotten married and, more recently, lost his father to pancreatic cancer. Ram paid tribute to his father during the trophy presentation.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) February 2, 2020
“It been challenging, but somethings that stuff, when it happens, makes these moments be a little bit more sweet,” said Ram during his team’s post-match press conference. “Obviously I wish all the world that my dad could have seen this. I think I’ve done well to make him proud, hopefully.”
Ranked 15th in the world, Ram and Salisbury dropped just one set en route to winning the first men’s major doubles title of the year and decade. Meanwhile, Purcell and Saville arrived at the title match as the first Australian pair in a men’s doubles final at Melbourne since 1998.
During the trophy ceremony, Salisbury said to Ram: “I don’t think i though 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. 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.”
Ram replied: “To actually finally get one is great. But it doesn’t feel like it’s been the same level of intensity as it has been last three or four years.”
Kenin no longer the forgotten American
After Sophia Kenin of the United States won her first Grand Slam singles title when she triumphed over Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, in Saturday night’s women’s singles final, no longer will she be considered the forgotten American among top U.S. players, which includes Serena Williams, Madison Keys, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff.
Thanks to Kenin’s remarkable, unflinching run during the Melbourne fortnight, which included victories over Gauff and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, then culminated with her title victory over the two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza that ended at 9:47 p.m. Melbourne time, Kenin will debut in the Top 10 on Monday ranked seventh and also surpass Williams as the American No. 1.
During her press conference following the final, the 21-year-old Kenin, who became the 16th active player to win a Grand Slam said: “It hasn’t sunk in. Yet. Everything is just still a blur for me.
“I just can’t believe what happened. … I feel like I’m doing some great things for American tennis. It such an honor.”
Rewind to Roland Garros last year and Kenin, who was ranked 34th, beat then-No. 10 Williams in the third round, 6-2, 7-5. Since then, she’s pushed the envelope and thanks to running the table in Melbourne, winning seven straight matches while dropping just two sets – despite not facing a seeded player through the quarterfinals – her win-loss record at the end of the first month of the season is a solid 9-2. Her only setbacks are to Naomi Osaka (Brisbane, round of 16) and Danielle Collins (Adelaide, round of 16).
“I’ve watched Serena. I’ve been following her, all the Slams she’s been winning,” said Kenin, a Florida resident. “It’s a special feeling just to be ahead of her. I’m just super excited. I can’t wait to compete, be on the same team with her in Fed Cup.”
Much has been written about Kenin emigrating with her Russian parents to the United States soon after she was born in Moscow. Her father, Alexander, is her coach and was front and center offering encouragement in her box during the final. Her mother, Lena, is too nervous to watch her play in person and remained back in the U.S. During her press conference, Kenin paid tribute to Alexander Kenin and to her supporters. She said of her father: “He’s been my coach throughout my whole career. He’s been there for me. I really have him to thank.
“We’ve been dreaming about this. It’s a dream come true for us. He’s told me a lot of positive things. He knows exactly what he’s talking about. He’s helping me with the game plan. He sees everything well.
“Even though I don’t like to admit it sometimes, to tell him he’s right. Yeah, he really works hard. Just thank you to him. We can share this forever.”
Kenin will enjoy little downtime as she heads from Melbourne to Everett, Washington (near Seattle) as the United States will host Latvia in a 2020 Fed Cup qualifier beginning Friday.
Around Melbourne Park
• Women’s wheelchair singles final: No. 2 seed Yui Kamiji, 25, of Japan defeated Aniek Van Koot from the Netherlands, 6-2, 6-2, to complete a double victory at Melbourne Park. On Friday, she won the women’s wheelchair doubles title. Kamiji is now a seven-time Grand Slam singles champion.
“I don’t think I was perfect in these days,” Kamiji said. “But I just focus to play my performance. yeah, I feel getting better since after first week of this month. I just play fun and not have pressure, just play my tennis, yeah. But it’s not still perfect.”
• Men’s wheelchair singles final: World No. 1 Shingo Kunieda, 35, of Japan clinched his 10th Australian Open trophy, which equaled Esther Vergeer’s record of 44 Grand Slam titles across singles and doubles. The top-seeded Kunieda beat World No. 7 Gordon Reid of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-4.
“Yes, a lot of pressure on Grand Slam final for me,” said Kunieda, who is a three-tie Paralympic gold medalist. “I didn’t have a chance to win any more Grand Slam sometimes I think. I had a lot of pressure before the match. But yes, I could play well. Gordon, as well, from first five games he was almost perfect. Yes, I was feel this time is no chance again. I just hit strongly. I wanted to play like practice in winter, so that’s why I could win.”
What they’re saying
Sofia Kenin on her self-belief: “I’ve always had that. I knew I needed to establish myself to get to where I am. All the confidence has come with all the matches that I’ve had, the success I’ve had in 2019.”
What they’re tweeting
Kim Clijsters, who won the 2011 Australian Open women’s singles title, in congratulating Sophia Kenin: “congrats @SofiaKenin on your first grand slam title 🏆 – you’ve shown what’s possible with focus, hard work and determination! 💪🏻❤️
By the numbers
• With his 17th Grand Slam title secured Sunday night at the Australian Open, Novak Djokovic is the first man in the Open Era to win Grand Slam titles in three different decades and the second in history after Ken Rosewall, who earned major titles in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.
• Sofia Kenin, 21, is the youngest American Grand Slam champion since Serena Williams (20 years 347 days) won the title at the 2002 US Open.
• When the new WTA Rankings are updated on Monday, here is how the Top 10 will look: 1. Ashleigh Barty, 2. Simona Halep, 3. Karolina Pliskova, 4. Elina Svitolina, 5. Belinda Bencic, 6. Bianca Andreescu, 7, Sofia Kenin, 8. Kiki Bertens, 9. Serena Williams, 10. Naomi Osaka.