Many college tennis players dream of using their time as a student-athlete to propel themselves to ATP Tour success. The men’s team at the University of California, Berkeley, will have the chance to learn from a player who has done just that.
Rajeev Ram, No. 9 in the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings, signed on as a volunteer assistant coach for their upcoming season. The current Australian Open doubles champion (w/Salisbury) is coming full circle after holding an identical role at the University of Illinois when he first turned pro. He played there for one semester in 2003, leading his squad to an NCAA team championship and winning the men’s doubles title with Brian Wilson.
Former ATP Tour players Wayne Ferreira and Robby Ginepri held similar positions while on Tour at the University of California, Berkeley, and Georgia Tech, respectively, but Ram is the first active Grand Slam champion to enter into the role. However, he made it clear that he has no plans to end his playing career and any coaching duties will revolve around his Tour schedule.
“With the NCAA rules, it’s very difficult to practise with the team unless you’re a member of it in some way,” Ram told ATPTour.com. “College coaching is something I’ve thought about after I’m done playing. I thought I could learn a bit about how it all works and [head coach] Peter Wright is a phenomenal person to learn from. I think I could be good at it and it’ll be a fun experience to figure out. It could help me in a lot of ways as much as it may help them.”
Although Ram’s time as a student-athlete was brief, he’s always viewed education as a priority. The 36-year-old graduated in 2018 from Indiana University East, a partner of the ATP that provides several options for players to complete their degrees online. Ram was the first player to enroll at the university through the partnership, earning a General Studies degree with a concentration in humanities and behavioral science.
“One of the requirements to be a head college coach is to have that degree, so that was a big motivation in case this ends up being something that I want to pursue,” Ram said. “I was able to finish my degree while I was still playing and enjoyed being able to focus on something else.”
The doubles expert is currently practising in Northern California, marking the first time in 13 years that he isn’t at Wimbledon due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But with action scheduled to resume at the Citi Open on 14 August, he’s remained in touch with partner Joe Salisbury (also a former college tennis player, at the University of Memphis) as they look to continue their momentum from the start of the season.
Having avoided significant injuries during his career, the current suspension of play is the longest that Ram has gone without competing since turning pro. He said the time away has given him renewed perspective about life on Tour and made him look forward to returning to cities that have become familiar stops for more than a decade.
“We always complain about how much we have to travel, so maybe those types of things won’t be as annoying. With everything going on not only with the pandemic, but all the other stuff that’s happened, especially in America, I’m hoping everyone can be more considerate and nicer to one another,” Ram said. “There are people at these tournaments every week who try their absolute best to make us have a good experience, so hopefully we can all be more appreciative of things like that.”