Wesley Botton
Chief sports writer
2 minute read
25 Jan 2014
7:00 am

Raven in a Klaas of his own

Wesley Botton

A few years ago Raven Klaasen had just about enough of his relentless struggle on the ATP circuit, but his family, friends and long-time coach Stephan de Kock managed to talk him out of retirement.

FILE PIC. Raven Klaasen during the South African practice session at Arthur Ashe Stadium on April 02, 2012 in Soweto, South Africa.Photo by Reg Caldecott / Gallo Images

When the SA Tennis Open was launched in 2009, Klaasen received some much-needed motivation, and after he paired up with Izak van der Merwe to beat the fancied Canadian duo of Daniel Nestor and Vasek Pospisil in a Davis Cup tie in September 2012, he tackled the tour with renewed vigour.

“I probably would have quit tennis a few years ago if it was not for my support structure, the SA Open and that Davis Cup match,” Klaasen said this week.

“It’s taken four or five years of really hard work but I’m reaping the benefits now.”

Klaasen, 31, was born into a tennis-mad family, and after realising at the age of 15 he was too small to play rugby, he focused his full attention on the sport.

He turned professional in 2002 but it took 10 years, after choosing to specialise in doubles, for Klaasen to compete in his first Grand Slam tournament.

He found some success, reaching the third round of the US Open in 2012 with Russian partner Alex Bogomolov Jnr and winning two ATP Tour 250 titles last year with Swede Johan Brunstrom, but it was not until he teamed up with American Eric Butorac that his career really took off.

The duo’s initial encounter did not end well after Klaasen’s countryman Rik de Voest suggested to Butorac he should have a look at the South African during a tournamemt in Stockholm in 2012.

Klaasen played one of his worst matches of the season and Butorac, a 14-time winner on the ATP Tour, was not impressed.

A year later, however, with both players looking for partners (Brunstrom picked up an injury), they finally teamed up and immediately fell in sync, winning the Malaysian Open in September.

Neither player, however, could have predicted their sudden rise to stardom as they swept aside a handful of world-class pairings in the Australian Open this week, including American giants the Bryan brothers.

Today, shortly after the women’s singles final, Klaasen and Butorac take on Lukasz Kubot of Poland and Robert Lindstedt of Sweden for the men’s doubles crown.

If they win, Klaasen will be the first South African to win a Grand Slam title in men’s doubles since Wesley Moodie secured the Wimbledon title with Australian Stephen Huss in 2005, and the first to win here since Ellis Ferreira won the Australian Open crown with Rick Leach 14 years ago.

Klaasen feels he has already achieved his own victory with a career breakthrough, but he wants to cap it off by going one step further today.