There is no ambiguity in the ambitions of Britain’s top-ranked doubles player — it concerns Wimbledon and ticking one last box. Only there is a minor complication.
‘Grass,’ says Joe Salisbury. ‘I’m allergic to it. I’ve always had a few allergies — trees, dust, whatever.
‘If I lie down on grass, I will get a skin reaction and it gets very itchy. It is not like I am dying but I wouldn’t sit on grass for too long. I am trying to win Wimbledon for the first time and I’m allergic to grass, I get why it might sound strange.’
Joe Salisbury (R) is one half of the World No 1 doubles pairing in men’s tennis
Salisbury has set his sights on winning this year’s Wimbledon in front of a home crowd
He never did keep too closely to convention, this hidden gem of British sport, and he never cared too much for obstacles either.
That has just been his way in a stealthy and magnificent takeover of one of tennis’s less marquee disciplines.
To run over a few of the details, he is world No 1 in doubles and a fascinating athlete some of you might not know.
If you don’t, it is partly because he prefers it that way, but his wishes are becoming ever harder to grant, with four Slams won in three countries in two years.
This from a 30-year-old Putney lad who nearly gave up as a teenager consumed by glandular fever, who once pocketed only $13,000 across two seasons as a young pro and knows what it is like to share little hotel rooms with two other players.
But things change. In 2018, Salisbury was outside the top 100 and lodging at his sister’s flat in Peckham. In 2022, he has passed £2million for career earnings and with the American Rajeev Ram is half of the best men’s pairing in the game.
Salisbury has revealed that he is allergic to grass – the surface that Wimbledon is played on
‘I went to Portugal for a friend’s wedding a few weeks back after the French Open and got recognised,’ he says. ‘The point is that isn’t something that really happens to me much outside of tennis and I quite like not having the attention.
‘I don’t even know why I have a Twitter account (a little more than 3,000 followers, not updated since 2019).
‘That stuff never interested me. It sounds boring but I always just wanted to focus on my tennis. With more attention and the positive stuff, the nice comments, it potentially also gets you more negative feedback as well and I just don’t want that.
‘But Portugal was quite funny. I had gone over on this trip and we’re all at a restaurant in a little town when some Irish couple said they were fans. They asked for me to have a photo with their kid — my mates were all taking the p*** out of me for it.’
For Salisbury, this is the time of year when his aversions might be tested. It is all about Wimbledon, the BBC, the potential for deep dives into a popular fortnight. To go by ranking, his chances are stronger than any other Brit, following a remarkable surge that has seen him and Ram collect the 2020 Australian Open and the 2021 US Open, to go with Salisbury’s mixed doubles titles last year at the French Open and US.
Salisbury and Harriet Dart were beaten in the Mixed Doubles final at Wimbledon last year
That his twin success at the US Open threw off only the gentlest of echoes over here owes a lot to what Emma Raducanu pulled off in the ladies singles.
His nearest miss on the grass was 2021, when Salisbury and Harriet Dart lost the mixed final, meaning Wimbledon is the only Slam from which he has taken nothing. As a local who first visited the All England Club ‘back before I can remember’, Salisbury is not suppressing his intentions for the coming weeks.
‘Wimbledon is the biggest goal for me now,’ he says. ‘It is the biggest, most special tournament for me. Even before winning any of the others that would be No 1 on my list. There is no reason we can’t win Wimbledon. It is definitely the big one now.’
That he is comfortable wearing a target on his back is a sign of progress in more ways than one. On the most basic front it concerns his rise through the game, which was only occasionally foreshadowed prior to joining forces with Ram in 2019. It was almost fortuitous in how that partnership came about.
Salisbury has admitted that he and Rajeev Ram nearly went their separate ways
‘We were very close to not playing together,’ says Salisbury. ‘He was No 1 on my list to play with and he actually had someone he wanted to play with ahead of me, Marcel Granollers.
‘They just won a big tournament but his partner was playing singles and didn’t want to commit to four years, so Rajeev committed to playing with me.
‘That was the big factor in everything — he has been an amazing partner.’
The second marker of progress comes from how Salisbury has wrestled with success. He admits landing the world No 1 spot in April prompted some voices within.
However, the pair have now become a formidable partnership on the tennis court
‘It does feel more comfortable now,’ he says. ‘But when I knew we were going to No 1, it all felt very strange.
‘It was a little bit uncomfortable because I almost felt like I didn’t quite deserve it. I didn’t feel like I was at the level where I should be No 1.
‘I think that’s partly how I am, my personality. I’m never satisfied, always looking to the next tournament.
‘But we are here because we have done well. I’m getting more comfortable with it all.’
The grass is just one more itch to scratch.