Wimbledon: Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski on ‘living under the radar’ as doubles players

Joe Salisbury
Joe Salisbury became the third Briton to be ranked number one in the world, following Andy Murray in the singles and fellow doubles player Jamie Murray
Venue: All England Club Dates: 27 June-10 July
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Inevitably there is heightened attention on all British players during the Wimbledon fortnight, including those who don’t usually receive as much scrutiny as Emma Raducanu and Andy Murray.

Staying out of the spotlight suits Joe Salisbury, the world’s number one men’s doubles player, perfectly fine.

“I feel I’m under the radar and I like it,” Salisbury, the top seed at Wimbledon with American Rajeev Ram, told BBC Sport.

Salisbury was born down the road from the All England Club in Putney, growing up in south-west London and now living even closer to the famous courts which house the Championships.

But the 30-year-old is happy to still be able to wander around Wimbledon Village fairly freely, without the fear of being snapped doing his daily business.

That’s unlike Rafael Nadal, who was photographed struggling to work the self-service checkouts at the local Tesco during the 2017 tournament.

“It must feel very strange for the top singles guys and the top British guys around this period,” says Salisbury, who was flat-sharing with his sister in Peckham before finally moving into his own pad thanks to career earnings which are now almost £ 2.3m.

“You must feel like all eyes are on you, even if you’re walking around doing something normal. Everyone is following you and watching what you’re doing.

“I quite like I don’t get as much attention and don’t have to worry about it too much.”

Another top British player able to quietly get on with his life is 32-year-old Neal Skupski, despite being one half of the ATP Tour’s best-performing pair in 2022.

With his Dutch playing partner Wesley Koolhof, Skupski has won a tour-high five titles this season and the pair are seeded third in the Wimbledon men’s doubles, which start on Wednesday.

“Wimbledon is different to the other Slams, because there are a few more distractions,” Skupski, who is a Davis Cup team-mate of Salisbury, told BBC Sport.

“More people looking for tickets for Wimbledon and more media interviews than the other Grand Slams.

“But it’s not too crazy and we can get on with our business like we always do.

“You can only take positives from a home Grand Slam, take on the energy which the fans give you and try to take the opportunities as they come.

“The fans will get behind us and I think Wes will be an adopted Brit for two weeks.”

Neal Skupski and Wesley Koolhof
Skupski and Koolhof won their fifth title of the season when they triumphed on the grass in Dutch city ‘s-Hertogenbosch earlier this month

How doubles and its stars slips under the radar in the United Kingdom is somewhat peculiar.

While there is not the stardust or intensity of the singles, nor the gripping element of a gladiatorial-like battle seen in a one-versus-one, it is an entertaining format which has produced a long line of British talent in recent years.

Added to that, it is the most popular form of the sport among local club players and is therefore relatable.

“Doubles is the bedrock of club and school competition,” said Judy Murray, the renowned coach and mother of Andy and Jamie.

Jamie Murray has long been the face of British doubles, having won seven Grand Slam titles across the men’s and mixed formats.

The 36-year-old is still playing with Brazilian Bruno Soares and the pair are seeded ninth at Wimbledon.

Salisbury, Skupski and Murray are part of five British men in the world’s top 75, with Lloyd Glasspool – who won his first ATP title alongside Finland’s Harry Heliovaara this year – and Jonny O’Mara joining them.

“Part of the reason why so many of us are doing well now is we had Jamie getting to world number one and winning Grand Slams,” Salisbury said.

“We trained a little bit with him and followed in his footsteps. Now the more players doing well definitely pushes everybody else on.”

The impact of renowned doubles coach Louis Cayer has also changed the landscape.

The Canadian came to prominence for his work with Murray, but has also been instrumental in the success of both Salisbury and Skupski.

“Louis has had a massive impact on all of our careers – he’s the best coach I’ve ever worked with,” Salisbury said.

“I don’t think any of my other coaches would mind me saying that.”

For both Salisbury and Skupski, whose teams could meet in the Wimbledon final, there is no hiding what their ultimate career ambition is: winning the men’s doubles at their home Grand Slam.

Salisbury has won two men’s doubles titles with Ram at the Australian Open and US Open, as well as French Open and US Open triumphs in the mixed doubles with another American, Desirae Krawczyk.

“As a Brit, that is the biggest tournament and the most special of the Grand Slams. So winning Wimbledon would be the ultimate goal,” Salisbury said.

“That’s definitely number one on the list.”

Skupski’s sole Grand Slam success also came with Krawczyk when they won the Wimbledon mixed doubles last year.

But he has never gone past the quarter-finals at the All England Club in the men’s event, while him and Koolhof also lost in the last eight in Melbourne and Paris this year.

“The grass is something that will suit our games and we’re looking forward to going further than the quarters,” said Skupski, who is from Liverpool and played college tennis in the United States between 2009 and 2012.

“To get the title at Wimbledon would be the biggest achievement of my career – easy.”

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