There may be no Andy or Jamie Murray at the ATP Finals this year but fortunately trickshot king Joe Salisbury is on hand to step up to the plate for the Brits.
It’s the first year since 2013 that British fans haven’t been able to watch one of the Murray brothers at the O2 but unlike six years ago there is at least another Briton to cheer on.
Salisbury, 27, has qualified for the season-ending doubles event for the first time and will partner experienced American Rajeev Ram – a former finalist in these parts.
While few would have predicted his presence in London at the start of the year, it’s been a stellar season for he and Ram – who teamed up at the beginning of 2019 – with two titles, in Dubai and Vienna, proving enough to join the eight-team field.
Their title win in Vienna, by Salisbury’s own admission, was not the biggest talking point of the week. Rather, an outrageous tweener went viral, with many hailing it as the shot of the season.
In a group hit with members of the media on the O2’s show court on Friday night – the ultimate preparation for any major event – Salisbury, umprompted, pulled the same trick out of the bag again, celebrating, just as he did in Vienna, by standing with his arms held aloft.
From the reactions of his peers on court, Salisbury is developing a bit of a reputation as a trickster but he tempered expectations for British fans hoping for a repeat performance this week.
‘Yeah the reaction from that [Vienna tweener] was properly crazy,’ he told a small group of media on Saturday.
‘I knew sort of after I hit the shot there would be a lot of reaction to it just because it was a pretty special shot and by far the best tweener I’ve ever hit.
‘As for this week, we’ll see. I’m sure I’ll hit a few, whether they’re nearly as good as that one, I doubt it.’
Salisbury and Ram are not here, however, just to make up the numbers and they have their eyes on prize.
Should they go unbeaten throughout this event, they’ll pocket a cool $533,000 (£417,000). It’s more than Salisbury has earned to date this year ($529,177) and is comfortably more than half of his entire career earnings ($855,244).
ATP Finals doubles groups
Group Max Mirnyi
Group Jonas Bjorkman
It’s not been a straightforward road to the elite level for the Londoner, who remains grounded and disinterested in fame after years of struggling to make a living.
‘Until a year and a half ago I was not earning any money and enjoying it just as much,’ said Salisbury.
‘I was driven by other things, by getting better by doing well at tournaments and getting to play the bigger tournaments, and obviously it’s nice that I get to earn a living from it now as well but that’s not the motivation.
‘I have had to do more media things this year and it is something that I do but it is not something that I love doing.’
The ATP Finals may rank as the most glamorous tournament he’s played in, but what about the worst?
‘I played a couple of Futures in Togo,’ Salisbury added, reluctant to single out any particular event. ‘They weren’t too bad but it was poverty on a scale that I have never seen before.
‘We were staying in an ok hotel but as soon as you walked out of the hotel, you were on a dirt road and just small huts where people were living. Just very, very basic facilites.
‘I remember I nearly fainted during one of the matches because it was 35 degrees and humidity. I remember I was playing a singles match and coming to the net on every single serve – first serve, second serve, returning, because I couldn’t have the rallies last more than three points or I was going to faint.’
Four years on from that trip to Togo, Salisbury will stand shoulder to shoulder with the world’s best doubles teams acting as the undercard for heavyweight singles clashes in each session.
He and Ram will kick off the tournament on Sunday afternoon and Salisbury’s partner is confident he will handle the occasion.
‘I think one of the best things about Joe is he doesn’t get too intimidated or overwhelmed by any occasion just because it’s new,’ Ram said.
‘I think it’s great, he embraces it and being the only Brit is going to be great for us. He’s going to have support and I think in turn I’ll have some support as I’m his partner.
‘The only advice for me is just it’s a great event, we did our best to be here but there’s still a long way to go. All the teams they have a good shot to win, so do we, but you have to show up on match day.’
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