© Andrew Ong/USTA

Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury battle through a three-setter against Austin Krajicek and Franko Skugor to reach the second round of the US Open.

How Did Doubles Teams Improve While Being Apart?

Some of the world's best doubles players provide insight

Having more than five months off due to the COVID-19 pandemic was difficult for everyone’s game. Players had to find the balance between resting, training and figuring out what to work on. For doubles players, that was even more difficult. Almost all teams were unable to be together during the pandemic.

For example, American Rajeev Ram was in the United States while his partner, Joe Salisbury, was in Great Britain.

“I don’t think [it was] too tough, really. Obviously it’s a long time not playing together, but we had played together for a long time before the break and then obviously we’ve been practising for a long time leading up to this,” Salisbury said. “We’ve had nearly a week here training together, playing some practice sets… in general I think it’s going to come back pretty quickly.”

Ram added that they had a call once every week or two, or whenever they felt they needed to discuss something.

“We talked a couple of game plan things, [went over] a few scouting reports, but I think the fact that we have a whole year behind us in 2019 and some of 2020 really helped us,” Ram said. “We did have a couple of discussions about what we could do if we wanted to try hit the ground running as quickly and as well as possible. We definitely didn’t just sit there.”

Ram and Salisbury began their partnership at the beginning of last season and they qualified for the 2019 Nitto ATP Finals. No team had greater momentum when play was suspended, as they were fresh off winning the Australian Open.

Since tennis returned, Ram and Salisbury reached the semi-finals of the Western & Southern Open and on Wednesday they triumphed in three sets to reach the second round of the US Open.

“It’s a negative for everyone that we had so much time off. The fact that we had a big win and then didn’t get to keep the momentum from that was a shame, but I think everyone feels like we’re starting fresh now,” Salisbury said. “Obviously it’s great that we got that win and we’re proud of that, but we want to just keep going and win some more of the big tournaments.”

One team that has been together even longer is Poland’s Lukasz Kubot and Brazilian Marcelo Melo. Like Ram and Salisbury, they quarantined an ocean apart.

“We played together for more than three years already, so to be away a little bit from Kubi was good,” Melo said last week, cracking a laugh. “But at the same time we missed each other as good friends. We share the court in the good and bad moments. Competing again together in this environment, to enjoy inside of the court such a good guy, a good partner, we missed [each other] a lot.”

Fans might not realise that doubles teams have more than just on-court success to worry about, but also their off-court relationship. Melo noted that they didn’t just speak about tennis during the suspension.

“I was watching a couple matches to see what we could improve, some shots, but we did not keep talking about tactics or how we could improve,” Melo said. “We were in touch, but not always talking about our team.”

Kubot and Melo were upset in the second round of the Western & Southern Open and they lost in the opening round of the US Open on Wednesday. But they will hope the work they did while apart will help them moving forward for the rest of the season.

“The most important was when we were home, each one of us improving the things we think we should improve individually. It’s like the singles guys, but in doubles,” Melo said. “It’s tough to improve the team without being together, but if you improve yourself and your partner improves himself, then we know already how to play. This for sure is going to bring us better results.”

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