An Extraordinary Men’s Doubles Three-Peat at the U.S. Open

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The 2023 U.S. Open has been characterized by the emergence of several young American stars seeking their first major titles. For Rajeev Ram, the veteran American doubles specialist, winning titles here is becoming repetitive.

Ram, 39, and Joe Salisbury of Britain won the men’s doubles title on Friday afternoon and became the first team to win three straight men’s doubles titles at the U.S. national championships in 109 years.

They beat No. 6 Rohan Bopanna and Matthew Ebden, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, in a match underscored by an act of notable sportsmanship.

The last team to win three U.S. Open championships in a row was the all-American duo of Tom Bundy and Maurice McLoughlin, who did it from 1912 to 1914. Ram, who is from Carmel, Ind., calls himself a tennis history buff, making the achievement even more meaningful to him.

“It will be something that I will carry with me forever,” he said.

The No. 3 seeds, Ram and Salisbury also won the 2020 Australian Open. But this title may have been just as unexpected after they rebounded from a difficult year to win the final major of the circuit. They had won only one previous tournament this year, the Lyon Open in France in May, and were 4-6 in their last 10 matches coming into the U.S. Open. Then, in the final, they played a terrible first set before recovering to win.

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Other legendary doubles pairs have compiled impressive streaks at different Grand Slams, including John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, who won four titles in six years at Wimbledon; the Woodies — Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge — who won five in a row at Wimbledon; and Bob and Mike Bryan, who won three in a row and six in eight years in Australia. But none of those duos were able to string together three straight at the U.S. Open, the last major of the calendar year.

Ram said it is extraordinarily difficult to win three U.S. Opens in a row. “A lot has to go right,” he said. “You have to get really lucky.”

Americans have made a strong showing at this year’s U.S. Open, with Coco Gauff reaching Saturday’s final in women’s singles and another American woman, Madison Keys, going as far as the semifinals. In the men’s singles, three Americans made it to the final eight, and Ben Shelton reached a semifinal, where he lost to No. 2 Novak Djokovic in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday.

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Ram, 39, and Salisbury, 31, won their earlier match on the same court. After it was over, Salisbury put a towel over his head, hiding tears that he acknowledged later.

“I don’t know why this one seems more emotional than the others,” Salisbury said. “I don’t remember crying after any matches, especially not ones that we’ve won, even at the Grand Slams. There’s something about being here, about doing it, doing it again and doing it after the year we’ve had. We had some struggles, some pretty low times.”

The match featured a moment of fair play so notable that the chair umpire announced it to the audience.

With Ebden serving at 2-4 in the third set, he hit a forehand that barely skimmed Bopanna’s right elbow before landing in Ram and Salisbury’s court for an apparent winner. But Bopanna immediately signaled to the chair that it had hit him, meaning they would lose the point. No one else, including Ram, Salisbury and the chair umpire, noticed it, and Bopanna had to approach the umpire and notify her.

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When she explained it to the spectators, they applauded the gesture, and the score was corrected to 0-30. It did not end up factoring in the game because Ebden and Bopanna won the next four points and held serve. But Ram said it was unprecedented.

“I haven’t seen anything like that in all the years I’ve been playing, and especially not in a Grand Slam final,” Ram said. “Nobody saw it. Nobody heard it. It would have been only him that would have known that happened if he didn’t say something.”

After the match, in the locker room, Ram expressed his admiration directly to his gracious opponent.

“I don’t have the words to say how much I appreciate something like that,” Ram said.

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