Rajeev Ram made history Oct. 3 when the latest ATP Doubles Rankings were released: the 38-year-old tennis legend became the oldest first-time World No. 1 in doubles.
Ram has won three Grand Slam doubles titles with his partner Joe Salisbury, as well as two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles with Barbora Krejčíková. He has won 23 doubles titles on the ATP Tour. Ram also won a silver medal for the US when he partnered with Venus Williams at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero.
In this exclusive interview, Rajeev Ram talked to India Currents about his tennis career, and more.
IC: Now that your doubles ranking has skyrocketed to #1, has that affected your mindset on the court or other players’ attitude towards you?
RR: It’s a privilege for sure, and gives me motivation to stay there as long as I can. It hasn’t really changed anything, but it’s nice to have that title.
IC: As a veteran on the Grand Slam circuit, what is your favorite Grand Slam tournament to play?
RR: They each have their own unique charm. The Australian Open is really player friendly, and it is a great time of year to be there, in the middle of summer. The French Open is clay courts, and the start to the European summer. The history of tennis is there, along with all the traditions that they have.
The US Open is my home slam, so it brings its own energy, with it being in New York City. It’s good to enjoy each one for what they are.
IC: How meaningful was it to you that your first ATP doubles win was in Chennai?
RR: It was pretty amazing actually. My family is not from Chennai, but from southern India. A lot of people I don’t get to see very often got to be there and watch me win. Both my parents were there, so it was a special thing to win my first title while they were watching. Yeah, it was definitely a cool thing to share with everybody.
IC: What was the Olympic experience like for you, and what was it like to win the silver medal?
RR: To play two times in the Olympics is something really special, because it is so global. You can see the best athletes there from all the different countries and all sports. I think that it is something that I didn’t appreciate as much until I went there.
I would say that it is one of the highlights of my tennis career to have been on an Olympic team, two times, to represent the US in that competition. It is definitely a huge honor to say that I played twice. (Editor’s note: Ram first played in the Olympics in 2002, and then again in 2016)
IC: What was it like to play with Venus Williams at the 2016 Olympics? Describe her on-court personality?
RR: Playing with a legend like Venus was amazing. What I took from it was how competitive she was in court and how she used anything she could to motivate and drive herself. It was really inspiring.
IC: Is it true that you once considered playing tennis for India?
RR: I thought about it when I was in my mid 20’s but it didn’t really get too far because there were some issues with citizenship and passports, and some details that made it quite difficult. I have considered it, but at the end of the day, I was born in America, and I grew up here. But I respect my Indian heritage, so it was a tough choice.
IC: What did you feel when you won the US Open?
RR: It was pretty amazing. To win it last year was really cool. And then to be able to repeat and defend that US Open title was probably my most satisfying victory. It is really tough to defend a title: you are seeded #1 and everyone is looking to beat you. It hadn’t been done in close to 30 years, and only once before. I was actually so proud of the effort because it was something that was so rare and so difficult to accomplish.
IC: You have started a nonprofit, the Rajeev Ram Foundation.
RR: I started the Rajeev Ram Foundation in 2009, for my hometown. Tennis is a good option for young people, no matter what level or style. It’s something that young people can do to make good choices.
High school and junior high can be a tricky time for a lot of people. If they take an interest to a sport it can help them get healthier mentally and physically. When I got the chance to be around professionals or good players it inspired me.
So if I could do the same to kids in my local community, especially ones that maybe aren’t quite as privileged, I felt like it would be a great thing. I was very happy to do it. We don’t reach a ton of kids, just my local community. But it is quite a nice little thing.
IC: Professional tennis takes a lot of preparation and practice. What is it like for you on a daily basis?
RR: It has changed a lot over the years, to be honest. As I have gotten older, a lot of it is staying fit, staying healthy, staying fresh, trying to not overdo it.
As people get older, you overtrain, and have the risk of getting injured. So for me a lot of it is injury prevention: stretching, mobility work, definitely some strength, but it is not really at this point about getting stronger, it’s kind of just staying fit, maintaining.
From a tennis perspective its very specific work, doing things so that I am getting better, but not overdoing it. So that when I do compete, I am fully ready and fresh and eager to play. That is a big part of playing well and staying motivated.
IC: Many Indian American parents don’t encourage kids to play sports.
RR: The way that my parents looked at it was pretty unique. My dad’s philosophy was that we live in America, so being good at sports would help me get a better education.
He was right! I had my pick of which colleges I wanted to go to, not because of grades but because of my tennis. My dad thought that tennis would only open up more educational doors. Asian parents might be a little more likely to encourage their kids to play if they see that it could be something where education becomes a little bit more accessible.
A lot of kids could benefit from playing tennis, or any sport for that matter, in trying to get a better education.
IC: Is there anything that you would like to tell your fans?
RR: I have been very lucky to enjoy tennis my whole life, and I think it doesn’t matter what level you play. If you enjoy the game, that’s the most important thing. I think just having fun with your friends, it’s all valuable as long as it is enjoyable.
Tennis can be a great life sport for everybody.