Amid the traditional charm and fascination of Roland Garros,
top South African tennis players Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen will face
daunting, if contrasting challenges when the only clay-court Grand Slam event
of the year gets underway in Paris on Sunday.
For Anderson, who turned a milestone 30 this week, it
heralds the opportunity to end a nightmarish start to the year in which he has battled
shoulder, knee and ankle injuries - as well as wavering and inconsistent form.
The net result is that Anderson's imposing world ranking
of 12th has slipped to 20th since January, with the 6ft 8in big-server failing
to win more than one game in any tournament - and indeed gaining victory in a
mere three matches all year.
What is more, failure to repeat his feat at Roland Garros
last year when he reached the fourth round and accumulated 180 ranking points,
could result in a further significant slide down the rankings.
For the never-say-die, darting on-court Klaasen it is an
entirely different scenario, with his impressive form this year in tandem with
American partner Rajeev Ram earning him a current imposing world doubles rating
The Klaasen-Ram combination can therefore approach the
French Open with a degree of optimism and confidence in the hope of reaching a
reasonably late stage in the tournament.
But Klaasen's ambitions, daunting as he admits, is to bid
for a place in the men's doubles final which would enable him to qualify for
the Olympic Games with a South African partner of his choice.
While Klaasen's world doubles ranking of 16th is more
than adequate for a qualifying berth in the Brazil-staged sporting
extravaganza, the fact that there is no other South African ranked anywhere
near the required Olympic standard to partner the Eastern Cape-born doubles
specialist seemingly leaves him out in the cold.
But, as Klaasen explains, the qualification format agreed
on between the IOC and the ITF stipulates that a doubles player ranked in the
top 10 in the world automatically qualifies for the Olympic Games - and is able
to choose a partner from the same country irrespective of his ranking.
"It's a long shot," admits Klaasen, "but
it's always been a dream of mine to compete in the Olympic Games and it would
be the cherry on the top of my tennis career.
"In order to improve my ranking to a top 10 status
Rajeev and I would probably have to reach the final - and, who knows, I'm
holding thumbs it might materialise."
It is a sombre realisation that without Klaasen pulling a
rabbit out of the hat, so to speak, South Africa possesses no other available
players who are good enough to participate in Brazil.
Meanwhile, the second Grand Slam of the year will be
launched with millions of tennis followers round the world engrossed and
charmed by its unique characteristics.
And the main attention of many diverse interests will
intriguingly be focussed on current world number one men's singles player Novak
The seemingly flawless, super-fit Serb has yet to include
a French Open success among his fast-increasing number of 11 Grand Slam titles
and he will be out to end what has manifested itself into something of a bogey to
join a small and select band of players who have annexed all four grand slam
titles at one time or another.
But even more significant is the Serb's quest to equal
the twice-achieved record of the legendary Rod Laver in winning all four Grand
Slam singles titles in the same year - something which Djokovic has a foot in
the door by virtue of his success in the Australian Open at the start of the
He won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and United States
Open titles last year and was only thwarted of a year's grand slam as a result
of the loss against an inspired Stan Wawrinka in the French Open Final.
So will the player known as Nole end the bogey this time
around and record a notable triumph?