Rajeev Ram was far from home. Born in Denver, raised just outside Indianapolis, and making his way between Indiana and California these days, the native Hoosier is just one of many players who makes jet-lagged trek Down Under each January.
And yet, at the opening major of the season, Ram has long found a slice of home, or of familiarity at the least, at the Australian Open in Melbourne. That's because the event's 2019 mixed doubles champion (alongside Barbora Krejcikova) won 2003 NCAA national titles under the watchful gaze of Craig Tiley, then head tennis coach at the University of Illinois and now the Australian Open's tournament director.
And that's tennis in a nutshell: What goes around comes around. Players who sow discord often find it themselves; those who remain fetching sportspersons often find their shining moments, or series of them; comebacks from injury or attack make for compelling figures (see: Murray, Andy; Kvitova, Petra). Through it all there are so many intertwined trappings and relationships that it's sometimes difficult for a close observer to keep all the allegiances in mind, let alone for a casual fan of the fuzzy yellow ball to do the same.
A flow chart or mega-infographic might help, though for the purposes of this story, a certain tweet will do:
In 1st Grand Slam as college graduate, @RajeevRam wins #AusOpen mixed doubles title with @B_Krejcikova. Ram, 34, graduated from @IUEast in December after winning 2003 @NCAA team title with @IlliniMTennis. His coach at Illinois was @AustralianOpen tournament director @CraigTiley.— ATP Media Info (@ATPMediaInfo) January 26, 2019
That's right, in addition to garnering his first Grand Slam title, after appearing in his first major final since the 2016 US Open mixed doubles championship with CoCo Vandeweghe, Ram also recently graduated at the university level. And while a book-smart education will carry him far, it's the lessons he has learned on court that he sought to impart to runners-up Astra Sharma and John-Patrick Smith, Australia's wild card surprises who blasted through the draw.
So yes, Ram is both Fighting Illini and Indiana University East Red Wolf, and suffice it to say that, with this taste of major victory in Australia, he will go for the proverbial kills the rest of this season in both doubles disciplines, men's and mixed.
What a moment for former #Illini All-American @RajeevRam! ????????— Illinois M Tennis (@IlliniMTennis) January 26, 2019
He receives the ???? for the #AusOpen mixed doubles title from his former #Illini coach @CraigTiley!
After all, as the likes of so many players, now including Ram, can say, few things arrive as sweet as a Slam championship in the back half of one's career. And the same surely holds true for a degree.
Follow Jon on Twitter @jonscott9.
(Disclosure: Scott is on the board of directors of EntouRaj for Kids, Ram's nonprofit organization.)
This Week on Tennis Channel Plus:
WTA St. Petersburg: Starting Monday, Jan. 28 at 5 a.m. ET, catch live coverage of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy featuring Australian Open finalist Petra Kvitova and Maria Sharapova.
WTA Hua Hin: Top seed Garbine Muguruza headlines the field from Hua Hin. Watch every match of the Thailand Open, starting Monday, Jan. 28 at 3 a.m. ET.