Second seeds face 2019 champions for Nitto ATP Finals title

If the Nitto ATP Finals doubles final proves to be anything like the match the same two teams played during the round-robin stages, the clash of US Open champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury with 2019 season finale winners Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut could be one to remember.

Ram and Salisbury beat Herbert and Mahut 6-7(7), 6-0, 13-11 on Tuesday, but Herbert and Mahut knew they still had an excellent chance to make it to the semi-finals - a chance they took and capitalised upon when they reached their third final as a team at the season-ending championships.

For three of the four finalists, this rarefied territory is familiar. Ram made the title match at the Nitto ATP Finals in 2017 alongside Raven Klaasen. Herbert and Mahut are into their third straight final at the season finale, having lost in 2018 despite holding match point on Mike Bryan and Jack Sock, and triumphed in 2019 over Klaasen and Michael Venus.

The odd man out is Salisbury, who became the first British player to reach the doubles final when he and Ram defeated World No. 1 team Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic 4-6, 7-6(3), 10-4 in the semi-finals.

“I didn’t know that,” Salisbury said after being informed of the record. “Obviously it makes it extra special, I suppose. Hopefully there’ll be a lot more.

“It’s a big, big achievement, obviously really, really proud of it, but I don’t want to be just a Brit getting to the final, I want to be the one winning it. Obviously we’re enjoying the win right now but we’re going to be back to business soon and really focusing on the match tomorrow and getting the title.”

Ram and Salisbury, who claimed their second Grand Slam title at the US Open this year, trailed Mektic and Pavic 1-4 in the ATP Head2Head coming into the match and Salisbury said it felt “really, really good” to get the win, after the pairing lost in last year’s semi-finals despite holding two match points.

“Especially in this tournament, the biggest ATP tournament of the year, and the way we did it, coming from a set down, not playing our best," Salisbury added. "We were really up against it and we showed a lot of character, a lot of fighting spirit to stick in there and to believe that we could turn it around and play our best at the end.”

In a semi-final lineup which featured the top four seeds for the first time at the Nitto ATP Finals since Shanghai in 2007, Herbert and Mahut followed Ram and Salisbury into the final with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos.

Victory for Herbert and Mahut would see them make history as the first French pairing to win the Nitto ATP Finals more than once. It would also crown a season which has already seen them become the eighth doubles team in history to complete the career Grand Slam when they beat Alexander Bublik and Andrey Golubev in the final of Roland Garros. They also won the Queen's Club title and finished runner-up in Lyon and at the Rolex Paris Masters.

"He's 39 and he's just like a junior!" Herbert joked about his veteran partner after Mahut's determined pursuit of a drop shot left him with no option but to hurdle the net during their semi-final match against Granollers and Zeballos.

"It would mean a lot [to win the title]," Mahut said. "It's the greatest event on the ATP [Tour]. We had the chance already to win the trophy, and we know the difference between losing in the final and winning in the final is a big difference. And personally I really like the trophy, I think it's one of the best of the year, so I would love to have it one more time in my hands."

The ATP Head2Head between the two teams, both of whom are looking for their third title of 2021, stands at 1-1. Ram and Salisbury are unbeaten at the Pala Alpitour this week, but Herbert and Mahut have the experience of winning this title – and played their best tennis of the tournament in the semi-finals. This could be a Nitto ATP Finals doubles final to savour.