A Chat with Tennis Pro Rajeev Ram
A tall, lanky, strikingly handsome man, Rajeev Ram is casual and friendly and very open. He sat and chatted with me for about 45 minutes after playing tennis for an hour with a kid about 12 years-old who won the time with him at his charity’s silent auction. He was gracious and kind to the boy and his family, and chatted and posed for photos and autographed the boy’s sweatshirt. Later, in response to my questions, this is what he told me:
“I started playing here in Carmel at 12 years old in Dec. of 1996. Before that I lived in Madison, WI and before that in northern California. I was actually born in Denver but only lived there a month.
I started tennis when I was 4 or 5 years old in California with my Dad. We’d hit balls about 1 – 1.5 hours a day, every day. I played with him until I was about 12. He’s about a 4.0 player. My Mom doesn’t play, but enjoys watching.
I didn’t have my first private lesson until here at the Carmel Racquet Club when I was 12 years old. And then I mostly had group lessons. I did a lot of clinics here from 12 to 16 years old, every day, about an hour and a half a day. There is a lot to be said for competing with your peers. You can learn a lot from just getting out there and playing.
And I played local tournaments on weekends. In high school I missed a lot of school, especially sophomore year—probably 50 days/year. It’s a credit to Carmel High School. They were very supportive, especially the Dean. In fact, I can’t remember even one teacher who didn’t help and support me. My grades were pretty good—about a 3.7—but it was tough to be gone that much. My parents were really good about it too, and one or both went with me to tournaments.
When I was 16 years old Kelly Jones (a guy) and Bryan Smith took an interest in my tennis. When I was about 17, coach Kelly Jones, with the USTA Midwest Section of the USTA Player Development Program, helped me to go Pro. I found my time on the court was starting to really pay off. It was worth putting in the time, and I was really passionate about tennis.
Now I am ranked 150 in the world in singles and 45 in doubles. My doubles partner is Scott Lipsky, who played 4 years at Stanford. I played college tennis for one year at the University of Illinois and then turned pro. That means that you finally get to accept prize money and cannot play on college teams any more. I knew I wasn’t going to finish the four years there, and the time seemed right for me. It was a matter of deciding when it was going to be my job. I had to get my feet wet and decide what tennis was all about. There’s not much money in it at first. It’s like an entry-level job.
Level 1 is Futures. Here you just gain points for higher rankings.
Level 2 is Challengers
Level 3 is the ATP Tour, where I am now.
Most players focus on singles first. Doubles is pretty much another event to go along with it. I’m still playing both, of course. In fact, about 95% of the time I play both singles and doubles.
So, I was playing college tennis in 2003 and turned Pro in 2004. You can find this as public record on atpworldtour.com, but last year I made the million dollar mark. Of course, that doesn’t mean I have a million dollars. There are a lot of expenses that go with this job. Among other things, there is travel and food, but not lodging, as that is usually comped to us. My biggest expense is support staff like a coach or trainer or physio (for strength training). One or two always travel with me, but their time may be split with another player. I need a trainer to keep me healthy and strong to compete day after day. Strength training is done in the gym. Then there is prehab, which prevents injuries with stretching, diet, and massage. It’s a big expense, but needed—a no-brainer for me.
In becoming a tennis pro, I was surprised by how good everyone is. I always did good locally, regionally and even nationally. But when I got to the pro level, everyone is good. It was tough to get over the fact that I used to play 60 matches a year and win pretty much everything. Now as a pro, every tournament it’s tooth and nail. But I guess it’s like that in every field. And the big secret to succeeding is being able to bring that top level day after day. Andre Agassi is a perfect example. He was always so consistent. But when things went wrong in his personal life, his tennis really reflected it.
I’m in the “off season” now, which lasts from Thanksgiving until the end of the year. There were 3 weeks of recovering and relaxing. Now I’m in the two weeks of intensive training, with weight and strength training and being on the court 3 hours a day. It’s like boot camp.
My next big tournament will be the Australian Open.
As to my competitive future, I see myself playing a while longer. I haven’t lost any passion for tennis. I’m still trying to improve. I’m 27 now and think I have another 3-4 years, assuming there are no injuries.
Then, after retiring from the tennis circuit, I want to help kids reach their potential. I want to give back some of the great experience that I had to help others. It can be invaluable to get involved in teaching so that kids can take their tennis to a higher level.
I do have a girlfriend that sometimes accompanies me on the road, but I still need to keep all of my options open for the future. Charity work is really important to me. In 2009 the RCA Tennis Championships left Indianapolis, mostly due to sponsorship issues. So I want to keep pro tennis here in some fashion, even if it’s just charity exhibitions. The Hamilton County Community Tennis Association (HCCTA) has a local charity called Community Reads. It raises money to purchase books for underprivileged kids. I help that charity with EntouRaj. It’s a one-night event that we just completed again this year where we bring in another pro and have a tennis exhibition with each other and with local talent. It’s a fun night with a silent auction as well. All money is donated to Community Reads.”
I, and the rest of the Carmel Racquet Club, will be fondly and enthusiastically following the career of the professional tennis pro that grew up at our club. We’re with you, Rajeev!
EntouRAJ for Kids Raises $9000!
CRC member and ATP player Rajeev Ram once again lent his celebrity status to benefit HCCTA reading and scholarship pro-grams. Rajeev and Somdev Devvarman (#85 world ranking and twice Division 1 NCAA singles champion) along with local celebrities and nationally ranked local juniors provided an eve-ning of exciting tennis on December 3 at Five Seasons.
WNBA MVP Tamika Catchings teamed up with Stephanie Reese Hull to play QuickStart Tennis against Rajeev and Som-dev.
CRC's Sameer Kumar and twice-IHSAA singles champ Ronnie Schneider played doubles with Somdev and Rajeev.
CRC pro Suzie Booker helped bring two nationally-ranked wheel chair players for an exhibition of wheel chair tennis.
Thank you committee!
Colin Atkinson (chair), Christina Fugate, Helen Petersen, Rajeev Ram, Carrie Ritchie, Steve Schneider
Thank you volunteers!
Ben Abels, Kim Ainza, Marilyn Atkinson, Amy Brentlinger, Michelle Burns, Pranith Lomada, Rhona McGibbon, Vanessa McGibbon, Shannyn Miller, Bailey Padgett, Libby Padgett, Maggie Petersen, Kelsey Sigman, Jana Swigart, John Vyverberg.
Proceeds from this event allow HCCTA to donate books to local schools and libraries and to award college scholarships to Hamilton county high school tennis players who do outstanding community service through HCCTA programs.