Johannesburg – Raven Klaasen is expecting a tough, tension-filled encounter as he bids for unprecedented glory in the Australian Open men's doubles final on Saturday.
After outclassing the eighth-seeded pair of Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic in a 6-2 6-4 semi-final win on Thursday, Klaasen and his partner Eric Butorac will come up against Poland's Lukasz Kubot and Sweden's Robert Lindstedt for a winners' prize of approximately R2.6-million each.
“Even if we lose the final, the R1.25-million runners-up prize will be the biggest-ever of my career,” the 31 year-old Klaasen said from Melbourne on Thursday.
He and Butorac had accounted for four seeded pairings on the way to the final, including a memorable success over top seeds and world number one-ranked Bob and Mike Bryan.
“Reaching a grand slam final is the product of a dream, with a life-long ambition already fulfilled whether we win the final or not.
“Eric and I will go into Saturday's match in front of a packed crowd with nothing to lose. Hopefully we'll be able to reproduce the enthusiastic, 110 per cent effort that has taken us this far.”
Should the unseeded and unlikely giant-killers continue on their winning way, Klaasen will become the first South African to annex a grand slam tennis title since Wesley Moodie in partnership with Stephen Huss won the Wimbledon men's doubles crown in 2005.
“It's been a long, arduous and sometimes heart-breaking road to success but I never wavered or thought of giving up.
“Four years ago, I took stock of my tennis career and came to the conclusion that my future as a player would best be served if I concentrated on doubles.”
Klaasen said the turning point of his career occurred in October 2012 when he partnered Izak van der Merwe to a thrilling victory over the powerful Canadian pairing of Nestor and Vasek Pospisil during the Davis Cup World Group play-off.
“We had a depleted singles line-up and were soundly beaten with the doubles victory being the one shining light.”
Klaasen and Butorac only got together in October, winning the ATP tournament in Malaysia in their first attempt. Kubot and Lindstedt had never won a tournament match together in their brief pairing together before the Australian Open.
Lindstedt, however, is the only one of the four to have reached a grand slam final, having been on the losing side in three successive Wimbledon finals before making it to a fourth occasion this time round at Melbourne Park.
The Swede is also comfortably the leading ATP winner among Saturday's finalists, with 17 titles and a world-high doubles ranking of three.
Klaasen is ranked 45th in the world and assured of improving 17
or 18 places when the latest rankings come out on Monday. A victory in the final could take him as high as 15th in the world in doubles.
“Hopefully this is only the start of my journey at top level,” he said.
“I hope to be around playing tournaments for a good many years yet.”
He shrugged off any suggestion that he could emulate ageless Canadian Nestor, who is still in the forefront at 41.
“No I won't be around playing tournaments seriously when I am 41,” he said laughingly. “There are other ambitions in life I hope to still fulfil that go beyond the game of tennis.”
The final will be shown live on SuperSport on Saturday after the women's singles final which starts at 10.30am South African time. – Sapa