Britain’s Joe Salisbury and American partner Rajeev Ram got their Nitto ATP Finals doubles campaign off to a flying start over Lukasz Kubot & Marcelo Melo at the O2 Arena, brushing aside a lack of practice to score their first win of the competition.
It’s not ideal but I guess I’m fortunate that it was yesterday and not in a few days’ time. If it had been half a week into Paris and then that had happened, I wouldn’t be able to be here. We’ll make the best of it and I’m grateful that I’m still able to play. Joe Salisbury
They were unable to train together in the build-up to the O2 because Salisbury was self-isolating for 2 weeks after his coach, Rob Morgan, tested positive for Covid-19 at the Paris Masters.
Salisbury, the only Briton competing at the O2, subsequently tested negative on 3 occasions but, although he was able to travel home after 4 days, Britain’s strict rules on close contacts meant he had to complete 14 days in isolation.
That took him up until Friday, and he practised for the first time at The O2 on Saturday.
“It’s not ideal but I guess I’m fortunate that it was yesterday and not in a few days’ time,” Salisbury said. “If it had been half a week into Paris and then that had happened, I wouldn’t be able to be here.
“We’ll make the best of it and I’m grateful that I’m still able to play.”
Arguably at their best on hard courts, the American-English duo kicked off 2020 in near-perfect fashion with victory at the Australian Open, the first men’s Grand Slam title for either of them, and they almost added another at the US Open, where they reached the semi-finals.
They have only played one indoor tournament this autumn, but the conditions in London suits their attacking style and there was little sign of rustiness in a 7-5 3-6 [10-5] win over Lukasz Kubot & Marcelo Melo in their opening round-robin match at London’s O2 Arena on Sunday evening.
The veteran pair of Kubot & Melo have been among the best in the world since teaming up in 2017, although they have struggled at the majors this year.
They nevertheless still managed to land a spot in London for the 4th year in a row on the strength of 2 titles, one of which just came a couple of weeks ago in Vienna, while their winning streak ended in the semi-finals of the Paris Masters.
Salisbury & Ram took the opening set against Poland’s Kubot & Brazil’s Melo with Ram’s fantastic forehand service return, but then paid the price for a drop in serving percentages to allow their opponents to level and take it to a match tiebreak.
The second seeds edged ahead in the decider with another brilliant Ram return on a Kubot serve, and eventually sealed victory with a neat Salisbury volley at the net.
Australian Open champions Salisbury, 28, and Ram, 36, are seeking to improve on last year’s performance at the season-ending event, where they went out in the group stage.
Earlier in the day in the same Group Mike Bryan, debutants Wesley Koolhof from the Netherlands and Croatia’s Nikola Mektic fought back to beat German 3rd seeds Kevin Krawietz & Andreas Mies.
Last year, Krawietz & Mies shocked the tennis world with a run to the French Open title as an unseeded team and although they were seeded this year, they were not considered a clear favourite for a title defence, but they had another surprise in store as they claimed their second major together.
The Germans have had a solid run indoors this year and could do some damage in London but they lost the final 5 points of the breaker in their opening match.
Probably the most underrated team in the field, despite their fairly high seeding at No 5, Koolhof & Mektic reached the final of the US Open, then followed that up with a semi-final at the French Open.
Aside from their runner-up finish in New York, Koolhof & Mektic reached the final in Marseille. indoors in the first half of the year, and they proved to hold the edge in the match tiebreak to clinch a 6-7(7) 7-6(4) [10-7] victory.
The doubles groups are named after the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, as a tribute to the tournament’s most prolific champions, who retired this year.
Only 3 teams from 2019 have returned after the shortened 2020 campaign, with defending champions Pierre-Hugues Herbert & Nicolas Mahut from France unable to qualify this year, while none of the current teams have won the title.