American pros Rajeev Ram and Brian Baker collided for some friendly fire in doubles (along with promising juniors Ronnie Schneider and Sameer Kumar) and then solo against each other on the night of Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Five Seasons Sports Club in Indianapolis. To benefit from the occasion: The EntouRAJ for Kids charity, which in turn aids the Hamilton County Community Tennis Association's goals of getting books into schools and into children's hands, as well as funding tennis and college scholarship programs. On this night, the event raised more than $14,500 to those ends. Among the spoils in a live auction were a signed Rafael Nadal racquet, which fetched $575, and a signed Roger Federer hat, which took in $500 for the cause.
As a tandem, Ram and Baker were doubles runners-up at the 2002 Wimbledon junior event, also garnering 1998 Easter Bowl and 1998 USTA Indoor Championships titles together. They've known each other even longer than that, though, and have an easy camaraderie that lends itself to quick-fire answers in the locker room ahead of an exhibition match, as you'll read below. (Baker later took the singles set they played in a tiebreak.)
This is the third year for your EntouRAJ event. What do you most enjoy about it?
Ram: It's a way to give back and to celebrate tennis in the community. Since the ATP event left [in 2009], it brings pro tennis here. There are no more pro events by this point in the year, and it's fun to see familiar faces.
When did he ask you to play in this event with him?
Baker: He talked to me a few months ago, but we've been friends for a long time, since I was 10 and he was 11. We played in the juniors, and played doubles together a lot. We turned pro at the same time, traveled together a lot. When I came back, we played together some.
Ram: We played in Cincinnati and at the U.S. Open together this year. [They also paired up in Kuala Lumpur.]
Yes, yes. I saw you play on the first day that I got in at each of those events. So, some people wonder just what happens, if pros continue with their charities after their playing days. You're still just 28, but do you foresee ongoing EntouRAJ work?
Ram: I hope so. It's something I want to stick around for, even if I physically can't participate in it, I want to bring in players who can. I think it's important to see up close, and for kids to look up to.
What are the highlights of your year 2012, both of you?
Ram: Reaching the quarterfinals in two Slams in doubles [Australian Open and Wimbledon, with Scott Lipsky], and the semis of two pro events [L.A. and Newport]. Winning a doubles tournament in St. Petersburg, Russia, was big [with Nenad Zimonjic].
Baker: Reaching the French Open warm-up events final in Nice, and going to the Round of 16 at Wimbledon, for sure.
What are both of your goals for 2013?
Ram: My ranking has dropped a bit, and so getting back into the Top 100 is the immediate goal. I want to get past the quarterfinals of a Slam in doubles, and I have a new partner.
Ram: Rohan Bopanna.
He's not a shabby player.
Ram: No, no.
And you, Brian?
Baker: I want to stay healthy and get fitter. I'm No. 61 now, and want to get into the Top 50 by May. There's not much coming off on the board, so I think I can do that. I want to get to the second week of a Slam.
You're a great story, you and, also this year, Tommy Haas. Are you inspired also by a return like his?
Baker: You always are happy to see guys at such an old age—for tennis players—so successful. [Haas is 34.] The technology has advanced so much, and in medical sciences, that if you have the will and desire to play, it's possible.
Less mileage on your body?
Baker: Less mileage, yeah, and also just there's the experience that triumphs over the younger guys.
What was the biggest difference when you came back?
Baker: Not that I hadn't been playing, but the balls were heavier, and the surfaces slower, in general.
It's been so compelling this year. Do you get tired of injury talk, or sick of your own story?
Baker: You know that, if you have to talk about it so much, you're doing something right. It definitely beats watching the sport for six years on TV.
These cities don't quite buzz like some even bigger ones do, so what are the advantages for you guys of being based out of Indianapolis and Nashville?
Baker: It's where I'm from, and it has the advantages of family and friends. You can't put a price on a quality meal at home. It's hard to find a quality hit at times, yes.
The ATP has 28 players who are 30 years old or more in the Top 100 at the end of this season. To what do you attribute this?
Ram: It's so tough for the young guys. You have to have solid all-around games. These are the days of competing as a complete player.
Baker: You really have to stay healthy. It's so physical. Experience plays a part. Like he said, you can't have holes in your game, and just have to be fit for a full year.
You're still 28 and 27 yourselves. But Kimiko Date-Krumm said that she intends to play the 2013 WTA season, at age 42. Does either of you have designs of being the male KDK down the road?
Baker: Forty-two is a long way away. No, no idea.
Ram: No, I'm just focusing on playing next year.