Australian Open champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury dodged an early upset bid from the eighth-seeded Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo to make a winning start to their Nitto ATP Finals campaign.
The second seeds edged through a closely-contested first set, but had to fight through a Match Tie-break after dropping the second set as Kubot and Melo mounted a comeback. Ram and Salisbury combined for three breaks of serve as they claimed a 7-5, 3-6, 10-7 victory.
Ram and Salisbury’s victory breaks their FedEx ATP Head2Head series tie with three wins to two against Kubot and Melo, and they avenge a defeat at this same stage in last year’s ATP Finals that saw Kubot and Melo successfully pull off a similar comeback en route to the semi-finals.
This time around at The O2, Ram and Salisbury stayed solid as Kubot and Melo ruthlessly targeted their second serve – they won just 22% of points behind their second delivery, and lost their serves four times in the contest.
With just one break point on offer across the first seven games, it was Salisbury who set up the second on the Pole’s serve with a backhand winner splitting the No. 8 seeds – leaving Kubot watching as he let it go. Kubot served up two double faults to give Ram and Salisbury a 5-3 lead.
Kubot quickly redeemed himself as he and Melo set up a break-back point with a forehand down the middle, and he crushed a backhand return down the line to get them back on serve. Melo saved set point at 5-4 with a big first serve that went unreturned to keep them in the set, but the pair couldn’t fend off a second as Kubot’s serve was broken once again, with Ram blasting a return to take the set 7-5.
The Polish man found another level in the second set as Kubot and Melo broke early at 2-1 made their way back – just as they did in their 2019 comeback. They took advantage as Salisbury double-faulted to set up a break point at 4-2, and another Kubot backhand return down the line, this time at full stretch, sealed the double break.
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Going into the fourth consecutive Match Tie-break of their FedEx ATP Head2Head, Ram and Salisbury quickly took a minibreak lead at 3/1 as the American’s forehand return dropped precisely in the corner out of reach. They extended their lead as Salisbury smashed a chipped return for a 4/2 lead, and inched closer to victory as another Ram forehand return winner put them at 8/4. They emphatically closed out their first victory of the group after an hour and 43 minutes.
They now sit at No.2 in Group Mike Bryan, right behind fifth seeds Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic who also won their opener. All eight doubles groups at the Nitto ATP Finals are in contention for the top spot on the FedEx ATP Rankings, making each matchup even more crucial.
“It is all to play for for the title and the No. 1 [position in the FedEx ATP Doubles Team Rankings]. For us, it has been a big goal since we left Australia,” said Salisbury. “We were in the No. 1 spot since then and just went to second after Bruno and Mate went above us in Paris. It is great that that is to play for and extra motivation.”
Source: Tennis – ATP World Tour