Friends before, during and after play

Great buddies… Andy Ram (left) and Jonathan Erlich clown around during the Chennai Open.-R.RAGU Great buddies… Andy Ram (left) and Jonathan Erlich clown around during the Chennai Open.

“We are both positive people. We enjoy our life, share a lot of secrets. These things make us strong and special,” says Jonathan Erlich about his association with compatriot Andy Ram. By K. Keerthivasan.

Jonathan Erlich, 36, and Andy Ram, 33, first competed as a pair on the ATP Tour at the Queen’s Club tournament in 2001. Together, they have so far won 15 titles including a major — the Australian Open in 2008 — and are hungry for more. “We are good enough for another Grand Slam title,” said Erlich.

During the Chennai Open recently, the Israeli duo spoke to Sportstar, on their enduring partnership.

Excerpts:

Question: How does it feel to come back to Chennai?

Ram: We are the veteran (senior most) players in the tournament with the exception of (Leander) Paes. It’s nice to see the young generation and some old guys. It feels nice and comfortable coming back here. We came to India for the first time in 1997 for the Futures. We have been coming here for 17 years. It’s a long time. People are nice. We played in the final (of the ATP Tournament in Chennai) twice, in 2004 and 2012, losing to (Rafael) Nadal and Tommy Robredo the first time and then to Paes and Janko Tipsarevic.

Overall, how has the journey been together?

Erlich: After the 2008 Australian Open title, we had many injuries. Andy had a hip injury and I had a right elbow injury. We still believe we are good enough for another Grand Slam title. We (will) try our best. We believe in ourselves.

How did the partnership begin?

Ram: I wanted to partner Jonathan and asked him, and he accepted it. I knew Jonathan since I was maybe 12 years old. When I finished the juniors, he was three years older and I asked him to play with me. In 2001, we actually teamed up first for the Challengers. Soon we started winning many Challengers and building our way to the top. 2003 was the breakthrough year, as we reached the semi-finals of Wimbledon. It helped us reach the top in 2004. Making it to the semi-finals of Wimbledon — the first from Israel to do it — was great.

Erlich: To reach the semi-finals of Wimbledon, which is a prestigious tournament, was good. Two anonymous players making it all the way to the semi-finals was obviously good news. We got the confidence and became very famous in Israel.

What was the turning point in your career?

Erlich: It was in 2001, when we thought we were ready to go to the next level. We won five to six Challengers in a row. We put in a good performance at the Queen’s Club tournament. We felt we had it in us to make it big.

Has doubles been given the treatment it deserves? Have you ever felt discriminated?

Ram: Doubles is popular in the United States and India. People follow it. It’s how you put it in the media. A lot of people play doubles. It is interesting, but it is never going to become more popular than singles. That’s okay. The European basketball will never become popular like the NBA. The Israel soccer league is not as popular as the English Premier League.

A lot of people follow doubles. There is a market for doubles. The stands are generally packed. When you go to tournaments in the U.S., people come out and support you.

Erlich: If players who have been together as a pair for a long time play, people come and watch them. When Bryan brothers (Bob and Mike) play, a lot of people watch them. Lot of people come and watch us when we play in Europe. In fact, people recognise us in Europe and Australia.

Ram: 10,000 people watched us when we played the Davis Cup (quarterfinal against Russia) in 2009 in Tel Aviv. It depends on the market you represent.

You two have been playing together for so many years. What are the difficulties in sticking together as a pair?

Ram: It’s like a marriage. We have been seeing each other more than we have our wives and kids in the last 10 years that we have been travelling. The beauty of our partnership is that we are friends before, during and after tennis. I think you can’t say that about many teams on the ATP tour. It is much more than winning and losing.

How do you sort out differences whenever they crop up?

Erlich: We are always talking. We fight most of the time, but we make it up. Somebody has to surrender otherwise somebody will end up being in hospital! I give him advice but he doesn’t listen!

Ram: He keeps me calm. (Of the two of us) I am the kid — energetic and crazy.

What has been the most difficult part of your journey together? What makes the Erlich-Ram pair so special?

Ram: As Jonathan said, it has been injuries. In 2009, there were injuries for Jonathan and he was trying to make a comeback. At the end of 2012, I had a hip surgery and I didn’t play till the French Open. I did well with Max Mirnyi for while. In 2011 and 2012, we played together till I got injured in September. In 2013, we played together for a few weeks mid-season.

Do you ever get tired of playing with each other?

Ram: I have played well with different partners too, but the feeling was never the same. It was just business. Winning with Jonathan is a different feeling.

What is the best thing that you like about each other — on and off the court?

Ram: On court, I love Jonathan’s volleys. Off the court, he is a good friend, somebody who will listen to you, one who will keep your secrets, a friend you can rely on in good and bad moments.

Erlich: Andy always pumps me up on court. Off it, he has good charisma, a good attitude to life, a good person to be around with. A positive person. That’s why we continue to have a good relationship. We are both positive people. We enjoy our life, share a lot of secrets. These things make us strong and special.