ATP Tour

Klaasen fulfils a dream at ATP Finals

2016-11-14 11:00
Raven Klaasen (Picture: ATP World Tour)

Cape Town - If there was an award for South Africa's "Tennis Player of the Year" it is a going certainty the voting would heavily favour unassuming, matter-of-fact Raven Klaasen.

Hard work and dedication from the age of six and a realistic assessment of the talent at his disposal have vaulted the 34-year-old Klaasen to his current notable achievement - a place for the first time in the prestige ATP World Group Finals at the sumptuous 02 Arena that will be staged in London this week.

Though only in the doubles segment with American Rajeev Ram as one of the top eight pairings in the world in 2016, whose supporting status is emphasised by the fact that the corresponding singles winner will receive R23m while the pair annexing the doubles title must share less than R4m between them, it is still from the Cape Town-based player the most notable achievement of any South African tennis exponent in 2016.

In keeping with his modest approach to success, Klaasen explains why he decided to stop competing in major singles events some six years ago to concentrate on the doubles - and end up by now fulfilling one of the main remaining ambitions of his career after becoming an Australian Open finalist three years ago
.
"It is enormously competitive for anyone trying to break into the top echelon of the singles," explained Klaasen, "and I was simply not getting there.

"A lot of my best talents like quick reflexes and speed round the court are suited to doubles," he added, "so I figured after deep contemplation that it would be my best bet to become what is termed a doubles specialist - and it has worked pretty well."

And that it undeniably has, with Klaasen and Ram annexing two ATP World Group titles this year and reaching three other finals - and Klaasen becoming the first South African to reach the World Group Finals since Wesley Moodie made it almost a decade ago.
 
In the process, Klaasen squeezed into a ranking among the elite top 10 doubles players in the world for a period this year and currently holds 15th position.

Success has not come quickly or easily for the South African doubles Davis Cup stalwart since he first grappled with a sizable adult racquet as a six-year-old at the Bellville Tennis Club near Cape Town, where his parents played and taught him the rudiments of the game.

Still featured among the entries in South African veterans tournaments in the country in age groups between the 60s and 70s  is the name of Jaco Klaasen, whom Raven Klaasen says played such a pivotal role in his early tennis upbringing.
Since then Stefan de Kock and more latterly former South African Davis Cup player Jeff Coetzee have helped hone his tennis and enabled Klaasen to challenge for "the big one" in London in the coming week.

Not one of the favourites with Ram, a select grouping that numbers current world number ones, the Frenchmen, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicholas Mahut; number two Jamie Murray, the brother of Andy, and Brazilian Bruno Soares and the iconic Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won more major doubles tennis titles in recent years than anyone, the South Africa-USA duo are not without a chance on the currently unpredictable and changing doubles court arena.

A more realistic and still notable target for Klaasen and Ram might be to qualify from the two-group round robin stage as one of the semi-finalists.

Of course, it is the singles section that will arouse most attention among the invariably capacity crowds, with a fascinating pinnacle battle for the year-end world number one ranking between Andy Murray and  Novak Djokovic in the offing.

Djokovic has been the year's world number one four times, but he surrendered this utopia title two weeks ago to a revitalized, in-form Murray, who will be vying to hold onto his position and become the year-end top of the heap for the first time.

Both Murray and Djokovic could end up as world number one for 2016 by winning in London - and no one could ask for a more appetizing and tasty tennis menu headed by this intriguing tit-bit.

Not forgetting, of course, the doubles and the progress Klaasen makes among the top combinations in the world in 2016.

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