Cape Town – Kevin Anderson and Raven Klaasen will be bidding to make it third time lucky for an elusive first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in sultry Melbourne – but the heat will be on from formidable opposition for the two late South African bloomers in the intriguing tournament that gets underway on Monday.
Uncannily almost mirroring their careers in singles and doubles respectively by coming to the forefront in tennis after what is widely regarded as the peak years of a player’s career, Anderson and Klaasen have qualified for their two Grand Slam finals after their 30th birthdays and at a time when their respected, but less spectacular careers at top level seemed to be heading for their twilight years.
Klaasen, now 36, reached the Australian Open doubles final with American Eric Butorac in 2014 and the Wimbledon final last year with current New Zealand partner Michael Venus and amazingly has reached all his impressive first 30 ATP tour finals – consisting of 14 victories and 16 runners-up spots – in little more than the last five years.
And the 32-year-old Anderson’s career only underwent a dramatic upward turn when he qualified for the US Open final in 2017 before going down to the redoubtable Rafael Nadal and again last year when he accounted for legendary Roger Federer in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon from a seemingly hopeless position of two sets down before ultimately losing in the final to multi-Grand Slam winner Novak Djokovic.
Can either of the South African duo now take their success against the odds to its ultimate level by annexing the game’s most prized honour – a Grand Slam title?
Both South Africans have seemingly found their best form in warm-up tournaments at the start of 2019, but although the fifth-seeded Anderson is not among the favourites in a field that includes top seeds Djokovic, (No 1), Nadal (No 2), Federer (No 3), Alexander Zverev (No 4) and dangerous young up-and-coming dark horses like the Russian pair of Karen Khachanov and Daniil Medvedev, Croatian Marin Cilic and Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
Anderson opens a programme on Monday that is spattered with potentially tricky hurdles against astute Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, with the up-and-coming, big-hitting Frances Tiafoe, who only turns 20 during the course of the tournament, a possible second round opponent.
Klaasen enters the Australian Open immediately after reaching the Auckland Open final with Venus and a victory over the formidable United States pair of the Bryan brothers to take their place in a draw that is immersed in unpredictability.
Meanwhile South Africa’s 21-year-old, number two singles player, Lloyd Harris, has earned a place for only a second time in the main draw of a Grand Slam event after beating seasoned veteran Dustin Brown in the final qualifying round, but he has not been favoured by the draw and comes up against in-form world number 16 Medvedev in the first round in what looms as the most auspicious game of his burgeoning career.