With the year-end World No 1 spot up for grabs, Joe Salisbury & Rajeev Ram secured their semi-final berth at the Nitto ATP Finals after a thrilling marathon win over Germany’s Kevin Krawietz & Andreas Mies, 7-6(5) 6-7(4) [10-4], in 2 hours and 5 minutes, the longest match of the week.
We had to fight so hard to get through that. I think everyone was feeling the nerves at the start. In that first set, it wasn’t the highest quality match, but then it got better and better throughout. We stayed strong and played a great tie-break in the end. Joe Salisbury
The Anglo/American pair stayed solid as they rallied to take the opening set, and recovered emphatically after dropping the second to pull away in the match tiebreak.
“We had to fight so hard to get through that,” Salisbury said. “I think everyone was feeling the nerves at the start.
“In that first set, it wasn’t the highest quality match, but then it got better and better throughout.
“We stayed strong and played a great tie-break in the end.”
Having fallen short last year, Salisbury & Ram navigated a complicated way through Group Mike Bryan with a victory over former finalists Lukasz Kubot & Marcelo Melo, but then lost in straight sets to US Open finalists Wesley Koolhof & Nikola Mektic, so winning their last round robin match against Krawietz & Mies was crucial to determine the second semi-finalists.
“Obviously so, so happy to come through that there, and get through to the semi-finals,” Salisbury added. “Last year we had a similar situation of having won one and lost one, and then it went to a third-set tiebreak and we lost out in that one.
“So to come through today is a great feeling!”
It was a topsy-turvy start to the match, with three breaks of serve in a row early on in the opening set before both pairs settled.
Mies & Krawiecz, who retained their title at Roland Garros in October, looked the marginally stronger team and had the chance to serve for the set at 5-4, holding 2 set points in the process, but a Krawietz double-fault and a Mies backhand error gave Salisbury, 28, and Ram, 36, the chance to break back.
They did so, and forced the tiebreak, in which the Anglo-American pair won the first set courtesy of a Salisbury ace.
The Briton then found himself facing a break point in the opening game of the second, but he saved it and, from that point on, little separated the teams and it needed another breaker to resolve matters, which the Germans sealed to force a deciding match tiebreak.
In that, Salisbury & Ram raised their games to comfortably outclass their opponents, 10-4.
The Australian Open champions now join tournament debutants Koolholf & Mektic in the semi-finals, after the No 5 seeds clinched the top spot out of Group Mike Bryan on Wednesday.
They will play the winners of Group Bob Bryan, which is currently led by Marcel Granollers & Horacio Zeballos.
Spain’s Granollers & Argentine Zeballos have won their opening two round-robin matches and face Jurgen Melzer & Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Friday evening, while Mate Pavic & Bruno Soares are the other possible opponents for Salisbury & Ram.
For Salisbury, it was an impressively swift transition from self-isolation to semi-finalist on Thursday night, having spent the build-up to the event in quarantine for two weeks when his coach Rob Morgan tested positive for coronavirus.
He is now just two wins away from becoming the first British player to win the doubles event in this tournament’s 50-year history.
In fact, Salisbury & Ram are one of 3 teams with a shot at earning the year-end No 1 spot if they can clinch the title, the others being Pavic & Soares and Granollers & Zeballos, who also remain in the mix.
Earlier on Thursday, also in Group Mike Bryan, the already-qualified Dutchman Wesley Koolhof & Croatia’s Nikola Mektic lost 6-4 6-7(7) [10-8] to Lukasz Kubot & Marcelo Melo, who were playing their last match together.
Poland’s Kubot & Brazilian Melo, seeded 8th, were determined to end their partnership with a win in their final round robin match, but it wasn’t enough for them to make the semi-final as they finished the tournament with a 1-2 record.
“Here of course is a very special tournament,” Melo said. “Of course the [Nitto ATP] Finals, we do everything to be here.
“[It represents] achievement in life, achievement as a team, and I’m glad I could be here many times.
“For us to be at a place that has the best eight singles players and best eight doubles players is very special.
“Today was another one. It was very special. Unfortunately we did not qualify [for the semi-finals], but we finished with a win.”
Kubot & Melo, who finished runners-up at the Nitto ATP Finals in 2017, also captured the 2017 Wimbledon title after edging out Oliver Marach & Mate Pavic in a historic final.
“We knew this was the last tournament.,” added Kubot “We were not sure to qualify [for the Nitto ATP Finals], so we did everything to qualify.
“This tournament didn’t go the way we wanted to, but every day we stepped on the court we gave 100 per cent and, today, was a day we just wanted to finish and play until the end, finish with a win for our Kubot-Melo team.
“We are very happy and pleased that this is here in London, because we have one of the best memories here from winning Wimbledon.”
They are not the only team to split up after the O2, with Britain’s 7-time Grand Slam doubles champion Jamie Murray announcing that he will reunite with his former partner Bruno Soares for the 2021 season.
The 34-year old won the Australian Open and US Open titles in 2016 with Soares, who helped the Scot become the world’s top-ranked doubles player.
The pair split in May 2019 and Murray partnered fellow Briton Neal Skupski, without achieving similar success, only winning their first title together last week at the Sofia Open.
Kubot & Melo saved 3 of 4 break points they faced in their win over Koolhof & Mektic before winning after an hour and 44 minutes to finish the curtailed season with a 21-13 team record, and winning 2 ATP Tour titles in Acapulco and Vienna.
Koolhof & Mektic failed to convert 3 break points in their first return game, and the Polish/Brazilian duo forced 4 volley errors from them to get the break at 2-2, closing out the first set with a love service hold at 5-4.
Koolhof played with aggression from the baseline to break Kubot in the 6th game for 4-2, in the second, but Kubot & Melo broke back in the 9th to draw level to 5-5.
Koolhof & Mektic earned 2 mini-breaks to win the tiebreak, 7-2, forcing the match to the match tiebreak.
Kubot & Melo converted their 2nd match point when Kubot hit a low forehand return ending Koolhof & Nikola Mektic’s unbeaten start at the tournament.