The last time 28-year old British doubles specialist, Joe Salisbury, took to the court in a competitive environment, was in February, in the quarter finals of the Dubai Open, where he and his American partner, Rajeev Ram, were defending the title they won in 2019.
It was a big, big step, and we knew we had the level to beat the top teams, we just hadn’t put it together consistently at one of the Grand Slams. But it was pretty special when we did Joe Salisbury
It was something of a shock that they lost in the quarters to the American pairing of John Peers and Michael Venus, particularly as just a couple of weeks earlier, they had won the Australian Open doubles title, elevating the London born player’s doubles ranking to 3 in the world. It was his fifth career double title but by far his biggest title and payday.
And then Covid19 struck and Joe Salisbury, like many others, became just another international player who had the rug pulled from under his feet. So how did he cope and keep himself fit, I wonder?
“It has been quite tough,” he said. “In general I’m quite good at keeping myself busy – I’m used to it on the tour, having to spend a lot of time on my own in hotels. You’ve got your training, your matches and your gym work, and after that there’s a lot of free time. But there have definitely been some tough days. Some days have been good, really productive and getting things done and other days you just have no motivation to do anything. Overall though, I’d say I’ve coped fairly well.”
In May, after eight weeks away from a tennis court during which he nursed a wrist injury, he was back at an eerily quiet LTA National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, cautiously hitting tennis balls.
“I’ve been hitting every other day, slowly getting back into it,” he said. “But it was nice to get back on court again.”
Historically, it’s been an interesting ride for Salisbury. A relatively unknown, mid-career journeyman at 25 years old, he was thrust into the spotlight at Wimbledon in 2018 following a career change which saw him focus on doubles only. Having never been higher ranked in singles than 550 (in 2015), it was probably a wise decision.
“The first time I really believed I had done the right thing was probably when I made the semi-final at Wimbledon,” he says. “I knew then that I could make it to the top of the doubles game. Even though I could have had an okay singles career, I don’t know what kind of ranking I could have got to, I wouldn’t have had the sort of success that I’ve had in doubles so far. I knew I was better at doubles than singles.”
His partnership with Ram was becoming established and saw the pair reach the 2019 ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena, followed by their Grand Slam success in Melbourne in January of this year.
“Australia was another huge achievement,” said Salisbury. “I didn’t think we were a million miles away from contending for a Grand Slam, but the furthest I’d gone with Rajeev before that was a quarter-final. It was a big, big step, and we knew we had the level to beat the top teams, we just hadn’t put it together consistently at one of the Grand Slams. But it was pretty special when we did.”
Meanwhile, the pairing continue their preparations for the imminent return to the court, Salisbury in London and Ram in California.
“He’s a bit older than me,” jokes Salisbury, “so he’s making sure he’s taking care of everything and stays fully fit! But, seriously it’s nice for us to get back on court now, to get out and about a bit more. But it’s still tough. I miss travelling, miss competing. Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can again.”