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Hampton, Ram finding Slam success

January 16, 2013 07:19 AM
Rajeev Ram is focusing more on singles play in 2013.
Jamie Hampton, who works with USTA Player Development, is currently at a career-high ranking of No. 63.
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com

MELBOURNE, Australia
—While young American Jamie Hampton was at USTA Player Development headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla., in November, essentially living in the gym, veteran Rajeev Ram was still grinding away on the circuit.

Hampton, who upset 31st seed Urszula Radwanska in the first round of the Australian Open on Tuesday, was so motivated to improve her fitness level that she spent 10 weeks in Boca.

Ram was so motivated to get his singles ranking back up that he played nine tournaments after the 2012 US Open and went up and back from Europe to Asia twice.

"I made the decision after Wimbledon last summer that I wasn't satisfied saying this is it for my singles," said Ram after his four-set win over Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the first round. "I had the discussion with my doubles partner Scott Lipsky immediately after that, and the parting was amicable. I immediately had some good results. It was a lot of tennis, but I didn't play as much singles in the beginning of the year, and I felt like I had a lot in the tank."

Those results included reaching the semifinals of Newport, R.I., and Los Angeles, but after losing in the first round of the US Open to Steve Johnson, the 28-year-old Ram decided to hit the road. He went to a Challenger in Turkey, then to ATP tournaments in Russia and Malaysia, then took two weeks off, went back to Russia for the ATP tournament in Moscow, then to one in Spain, then to a Challenger in Germany, another in Italy and then one in Japan, where he reached the quarters.
"A lot of it was an effort to get into the Australian Open without having to qualify, but that didn't work out, but it’s OK," said Ram, who instead won three rounds of qualifying to get into the Australian Open main draw.
A standout doubles player who will partner with India’s Rohan Bopanna this season, Ram’s singles game is in transition. Last year, he gradually discovered that an attack-at-all-costs strategy wasn't the smartest way to play. He can serve and volley, and he’s very competent at the net, but the game is changing and it takes a lot of work to get up to the cords.
"I’ve tried to adapt the best way I can about not being so single-minded about how I play and understand that isn’t working anymore," said Ram, who will play Croatia's Marin Cilic in the second round. "I need to make the other guy beat me a little more and don’t always think I have to win the point. I’m not going to be a grinder, but I can hit ground strokes. I don’t have to come in at the first opportunity or play risky, redline tennis anymore."
The 23-year-old Hampton sometimes employs a redline approach, but she mostly does it from inside the baseline. A hard hitter who can mix up her attack, she’s been on the verge of big things for a couple of years. In fact, last year at the Australian Open, No. 2 Maria Sharapova, who is usually very cautious when discussing younger player's prospects, mentioned how good Hampton could be after defeating her in two sets.
Hampton made Sharapova look wise in the first round, defeating No. 31 seed Ula Radwanska, 6-2, 6-4, not though she needed six match points to close out the match.
"I was a little worried, but I was still up a break, and there was no need to panic," she said. "I knew the balls were in my hand."
Last summer, she left her longtime private coach Jason Parker and began to work under USTA Player Development. She traveled with USTA coach Jay Gooding to Asia and had a solid swing, qualifying for Seoul and Tokyo and winning rounds there, plus reaching the quarters of Osaka.
"It was nice to get a new opinion," she said. "If you have the same opinion for 12 years, it gets a little monotonous."
She went home to Alabama for a week but then went to the USTA Training Center in Boca Raton in mid-October and spent time with coaches, fitness trainers and her peers, including 17-year-old Madison Keys, who upset 30th seed Tamira Paszek in the second round of the Australian Open on Thursday, and a host of other up-and-comers like Britain’s Laura Robson, Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova and New Zealand’s Mariana Erakovic.
"We played a lot of practice matches, and I don't want to lose," said Hampton, who currently is at a career-high ranking of No. 63. "It's good to go out and play those sets even if you are tired because then you are ready to play these [Grand Slam] matches."
Hampton started the year with a bang, reaching the semifinals of Auckland, New Zealand. Now she’ll be favored to beat Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum in the second round.
Hampton and Keys are not the only young U.S. players left in the Australian Open women's draw, as 29th seed Sloane Stephens remains, as does mid-career player Varvara Lepchenko as well as veterans Venus and Serena Williams.
The younger U.S. set is not only practicing together but pushing each other to greater heights.
"We all played juniors together, and when one of the others does well, you say, 'If she can do it, so can I,'" Hampton said. "We all have our own unique personalities and unique games. All our games are very good and will mature at different times."
She then added with a laugh, "But it’s tough following the Williams sisters."
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For more coverage of American players at the 2013 Australian Open, see:


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