Rajeev Ram: Two-Time Double’s Grand Slam Champion on His Journey to Success
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Carmel High School Greyhound Hall of Famer, IHSAA state champ and men’s doubles phenom Rajeev Ram has won his second Grand Slam along with his British partner, Joe Salisbury, at the Australian Open. I spoke with Ram on his years growing up in Carmel, his training with pros, going pro in tennis and how it all led to winning not just one but two remarkable and hard-earned men’s double grand slam tournaments.
Ram was born in Colorado and began playing tennis recreationally with his father while as a young kid in northern California. Ram’s family moved to Carmel, Indiana, for his father’s work and began playing recreational tennis at the Carmel Racquet Club when Ram was 12 years old.
Discovering a Natural Talent for the Game in Carmel
Assistant manager and head pro at Carmel Racquet Club Mark Woldmoe began working with Ram when he was 12 years old, shortly after he moved to the city. Woldmoe has been at the club for 35 years and, along with his colleagues, has worked with several Top 10 Midwest players and produced several high-performance players over the years such as Ram.
“I kind of took him [Ram] under my wing and worked with him until he was about 16 years old,” Woldmoe shared. “His game was kind of modeled after Pete Sampras—big serve-and-volley—and [he] was one of the few 13-, 14-year-old [players] playing that style. I remember telling him [Ram] that he was going to get his first national title on clay, and Rajeev just laughed and chuckled. Sure enough, he won his first national championship at 14, and his career just went on from there.”
Ram has also trained with pro tennis coach and former state champ Bryan Smith since he was a teenager. Smith had a successful tennis college career at Ball State.
“Mark [Woldmoe] and I worked together when I was 12 until I was in high school,” Ram said. “He has always been incredibly supportive of my [career]. I also worked with another local, Bryan Smith, and during that time, I noticed that I was improving, and my level was increasing. I thought it was possible that I could actually go somewhere with tennis.”
During his sophomore year, Ram won the state title in singles, beating Troy Hahn. Ram decided that if he was to develop his game so that he could compete on a national level, he would need to take his training to the next step. Ram moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to train with a group of his peers under the direction of internationally renowned developmental coach Kelly Jones. Jones works with some of the top pros on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour.
“I got to be around other good players, and I improved a lot,” Ram said. “That time period showed me what I needed to do if I really wanted to make a career out of tennis. I moved back to Carmel and graduated with my class in 2002. I’ve always kept my home base in Indiana.”
The Arduous Road to Success
Prior to winning his first Grand Slam title at the 2019 Australian Open mixed doubles in partnership with Czech Barbora Krejcikova last year, 6-foot-4 Ram won two NCAA titles while attending the University of Illinois before turning pro in 2004. Ram has won a total of 15 ATP World Tour titles, two in singles and 13 in doubles. He was a doubles semifinalist at the 2014 U.S. Open and 2016 Wimbledon and won a 2016 Olympic silver medal in Rio mixed doubles with Venus Williams. Before he retired from singles play in July 2017, some of Ram’s best victories came against top 10 players Grigor Dimitrov, Kei Nishikori and Mardy Fish, as well as former world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt.
Before competing in the 2020 Australian Open, Ram had made 57 Grand Slam appearances but to no avail. Ram and his double’s partner of just over a year—Salisbury—sat down at the end of last year and mapped out their goals. Their passion and perseverance paid off.
In the Australian Open final on Feb. 2—Ram’s 58th Grand Slam attempt—Ram and Salisbury defeated Max Purcell and Luke Saville 6-4, 6-2 in the Australian Open final.
When asked to share his thoughts on what it took for him to achieve not one but two Grand Slam titles, Ram replied, “Winning the first [title] was a long time coming. There had been a couple of tough losses and a bunch of close matches, but for someone who really enjoys the history of the game, it’s pretty amazing to think my name’s going to be forever among some pretty incredible people who have also played.”
When asked what’s next for Ram and Salisbury, Ram shared, “We’ve had to go through some growing pains, for sure, to get to this point, but now that we’ve achieved a goal that we set out to do, the feeling has become addictive, and I think we are both really hungry for more. I’m hoping [that hunger] will drive us to continue working at the level we’ve been working. I think we have it in us to win some more.”
Back at Home—in Indiana
After all these years and success, Ram maintains his ties to the Midwest. While he and his wife have residences in northern California and Indiana, his family remains in the Midwest, and Ram continues to give back to the Indianapolis-area community that he has developed a strong affinity for.
Ram organized EntouRaj for Kids—established as an independent 501(c)(3) in 2014—which promotes the development of young tennis players by funding high school team and high-performance individual grants, as well as programs that teach young players what it takes to have a winning attitude in tennis and in life. The nonprofit also keeps professional tennis alive in Indiana and helps make it accessible to families.
EntouRaj for Kids brings professional tennis players to the Indianapolis area for exhibition matches so that tennis fans from all over the Midwest can see top-notch tennis up close.
“I was very fortunate having the support of my parents, coaches and community members while growing up,” Ram said. “Tennis has given me so much. Our mission is to put tennis programs in schools that don’t have [programs] due to lack of funding and resources so that kids have somewhere to go at the end of the day and to use tennis as a vehicle for kids to make better choices. It’s not about developing professional tennis players but about teaching kids a sport that they may enjoy and might develop a knack for. If it leads them to make better decisions and gets them involved in something they can get passionate about, then we are using tennis in a very useful way.”