South African tennis star Raven Klaasen is through to the doubles final of the Australian Open after he and his American partner Eric Butorac cruised past eighth seeds Nenad Zimonjic and Daniel Nestor in the semi-finals in Melbourne on Thursday.
It has been a marvellous run for the unseeded pair, highlighted by their 7-6, 6-4 victory over the Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, the top seeds and 15-time Grand Slam winners, in the third round.
They also disposed of Aussie favourites Lleyton Hewitt and Pat Rafter in the first round, winning 6-4, 7-5, and 15th seeds Jamie Murray and John Peers, whom they beat 6-4, 6-4.
After their win over the Bryans, Klaasen and Butorac were pushed all the way in their quarterfinals clash with 12th seeds Treat Huey and Dominic Inglot, recording a tight 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 victory to move into the final four.
Surprise phone call
Klaasen’s superb results were recognised back in South Africa by Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula, who surprised the tennis star by phoning him on Wednesday.
“It was a long day at the tennis. I had a solid practice, then a rub down and did some media work and got caught in heavy traffic travelling home. I got home and the phone rang and honestly I never expected Minister Mbalula to be on the line,” Klaasen said in a statement.
“I asked who was speaking and when he told me it was the minister I was shocked. I never expected the call and was very excited that the minister took time out of his schedule to make a call to me.
“The minister wished my partner and I well for Thursday and said that he and the country were very proud of me and that everyone back home was behind me for the final and to go all the way with Eric.”
In an interview with Radio 702, Klaasen added: “The support from back home has been wonderful and made me feel proudly South African.”
Remarkably, Klaasen and Butorac enjoyed their most comfortable win so far in their semi-final against Zimonjic, a three-time men’s doubles Grand Slam winner, and Nestor, an eight-time men’s doubles Grand Slam champion. It took just an hour and four minutes, with Klaasen and Butorac converting three of five break points while not facing a single one.
They will face Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt for the title after the 14th seeds defeated 13th seeds Michael Llodra and Nicolas Mahut 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 in the second semi-final. It will be, by far, the biggest match yet played by the Klaasen/Butorac combination.
Klaasen has three ATP World Tour doubles titles to his name, having won the Open de Nice Cote d’Azur and Moselle Open with Johan Brunstrom, and the Malaysian Open with Butorac, all in 2013. Butorac has claimed 14 doubles titles in his career.
South African tennis fans will be soon able to watch Klaasen in action in the Davis Cup when South Africa takes on Monaco from 31 January to 2 February in Pretoria at the Irene Country Club.
By: Brad Morgan