Rajeev Ram gave himself the best possible 33rd birthday present on Saturday at the BNP Paribas Open, teaming with Raven Klaasen to defeat eighth seeds Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo 6-7(1), 6-4, 10-8 to take the doubles title in Indian Wells.
The victory gives South Africa’s Klaasen and American Ram their first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title as a team. It's the first Masters 1000 title for Ram and second for Klaasen, who previously won Shanghai in 2015 with Melo. This is Klaasen/Ram's fifth title as a team and second of 2017, having also prevailed last month in Delray Beach.
Four of their five matches this fortnight went to a Match Tie-break. Klaasen/Ram also have the unique distinction of recording back-to-back wins in this tournament over Rafael Nadal (w/Tomic) and Novak Djokovic (w/Troicki) in their second-round and quarter-final matches.
“When you think of one to win and how to win it, this is about as good as it gets. To play two legends of the game that are still playing, Nadal and Djokovic, and then to go all the way to finish the trophy out is something that I will cherish for a long time,” said Klaasen. “We thought that we were playing well enough to win it, but it's still very difficult, specifically this tournament, to go all the way given the amount of good players in the draw.”
The first set saw five of the 12 games go to a deciding point, but there were no breaks of serve going into the tie-break. Kubot proved to be the star player in the crucial stages of the set, helping land an early mini-break on Klaasen’s serve and then hitting a return winner off Ram’s first-serve to give his team a 5/1 lead. A strong first serve from Kubot on their first set point gave the eighth seeds a commanding lead.
It appeared that Kubot/Melo would storm to the title after a volley error from Klaasen gave them the first break of the match to lead 2-1 in the second set. However, nerves from Kubot saw the Polish player hit a double fault down break point to gift the lead back and even the set at 4-4. Two games later, a forehand return winner from Klaasen on set point levelled the match at one set each.
The Match Tie-break proved to be a nervy affair, with both teams recognising the importance of the occasion. Little separated the two pairs throughout, but a big return of serve from Klaasen on match point at 9/8 guided them to the title after one hour and 46 minutes.
“I think everybody's goal, whether singles or doubles, is to make it to the ATP World Tour Finals at the end of the year. A title like this definitely puts us in good position to at least try to do that,” said Ram. “I think it's good validation for what we're doing. We are trying to improve all the time. And when you see results that back up the work you have done, it really makes it motivating to keep going and keep trying to continue to get better.”