Klaasen boosted by ATP accolade

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South Africa’s world-class doubles specialist Raven Klaasen was handed a morale-boosting accolade ahead of next week’s US Open which starts on Monday in New York City.
The 37-year-old Klaasen, coached by Capetonian Stephan Dk. will partner 40-year-old Austrian Oliver Marach. The pair are seeded 7th for the 2020 US Open doubles competition.
Klaasen was voted by his peers as the player with the most lethal overhead smash shot on the world doubles circuit. The Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP), men’s tennis governing body, have been running the ‘Ultimate Doubles Player’ series over the last few weeks.
In the latest edition, the ATP looked at the overhead smash which is said to be the most difficult tennis shot to master. The accolade would normally go to taller players who are two metres or more in height. Klaasen is 1.8m tall.
He was surprised by the praise his peers showered on him after winning multiple votes.
“The shot doesn’t really pop up too much in doubles,” said Klaasen. “But it combines your ability to cover the court with your ability to finish the ball.”
Three Brits were among those who hailed Klaasen as the king of the overhead smash.
“It is just because of his athleticism,” said Joe Salisbury, a current world top tenner with a No 7 world ranking.
“He’s got a good smash, but maybe it’s because he’s so tough to lob. He gets back to everything, so including the movement back to it he’s got the best smash.”
Jamie Murray, a seven-time Grand Slam doubles winner and a former doubles world No1, said Klaasen’s positioning was the key.
“Raven is a very athletic guy, gets back well for overheads,” said Murray, the brother of former world No 1 Andy Murray.
“Most guys don’t miss smashes, but there’s a big difference between making a smash and getting back and still being able to give it a good smack and hit it for a winner or really force an opponent to hit a [poor] reply, and then you put the next one away.”
Neal Skupski, a doubles semi-finalist at last year’s US Open, also praised Klaasen’s athleticism.
“He is one who is very athletic. He’s not very tall, but very difficult to lob because he’s so athletic,” said Skupski.
“He gets back so quick and he’s able to get a bit of pop on the old smash.” –
Klaasen and Marach, currently world ranked 10th as a team, have played in one grand slam before and apart from the outing in Cincinnati earlier this week, they played in Rotterdam and Dubai in February.
The two other SA players at this year’s US Open will be Kevin Anderson and Lloyd Harris, both of whom made early exits in the Cincinnati warm-up event. Lloyd was a qualifier so he would have enjoyed the additional outings.
Anderson, a former world No 5, will be one of the dark horses in the singles field. Because of protracted injury, his ranking took a severe knock and he is presently at 124.
He showed touches of his former self when he downed SA-born Brit Kyle Edwards after three sets in the ‘Battle of the Joburgers’ in the opening round at Cincinnati. Edwards, like Anderson, was born in Joburg.
Harris slots in at 97 on the latest rankings and he may not be at his best after of months of inactivity because of lockdown restrictions in Cape Town. He will, however, command respect after he won a set against Roger Federer in the first round of Wimbledon 2019.
For the time in many years, SA will not have a wheelchair player at the US Open.
SA’s world No 7 Kgothatso Montjane has withdrawn from the US Open out fear of the coronavirus pandemic.
Last year she reached the doubles finals at the US Open.
Text: HERMAN GIBBS
Picture: AELTC