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Winning start for SA’s Klaasen in London

South Africa’s Raven Klaasen and American Rajeev Ram caused an upset on Monday at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London when they defeated the French pair of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut.
The French combination are vying to become the year-end No 1 pair in the Emirates ATP Doubles Team Rankings.
But Klaasen and Ram stopped them in their tracks, winning 7-5 6-4 in 83 minutes in a Group Fleming/McEnroe round-robin encounter, which avenged their loss to Herbert and Mahut in this year’s final of the Miami Open presented by Itau.
Klaasen and Ram settled quickly and almost broke Herbert’s serve on a deciding deuce point in the first game. With good defence at the net, Klaasen and Ram kept the pressure on their opponents and reaped a break of Mahut’s serve to 30 for a 4-2 lead.
Ram held three-set point chances on serve, at 5-4, 40/15 – including the deciding deuce point – but tremendous returns and reactions, particularly from Mahut, secured three straight points and the break.
However, Klaasen and Ram immediately regrouped and on a second serve, on a deciding deuce point, Klaasen fired a backhand winner down the line past Herbert for a 6-5 advantage. Minutes later, Klaasen calmly served out the 44-minute opener.
In the second set, Herbert and Mahut upped the ante and played disciplined tennis on return of serve. At 1-2, Klaasen faced two break points, but wriggled out of the game after Ram framed a forehand volley winner on the deciding deuce point. Mahut screamed in anguish, but worse was to come.
In the next game, quick reactions at the net by Ram forced the break of Herbert’s serve for a 3-2 lead. Klaasen and Ram remained in control, not overplaying against their higher-ranked opponents, and kept their nerve to record their first win at the season finale.
Klaasen, 34, and 32-year-old Ram are now 32-20 for the season, which includes two ATP World Tour titles at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle and the Chengdu Open. Herbert and Mahut, chasing their sixth title of the year, dropped to the 41-11 mark in 2016.
Klaasen said that he and Ram played well at the important moments and executed the game plan accordingly. ‘It was a big, much-needed win against the top seeds and gets our campaign off to a positive start. Stepping out onto the O2 Arena was in itself a challenge and, wow, what a fabulous experience it was, being able to avenge our defeat in Miami against the Frenchmen in such an atmosphere.’
Had Herbert and Mahut won the match, then Mahut would have become the first Frenchman in the 40-year history of the Emirates ATP Doubles Rankings to finish as the year-end individual No 1. Herbert and Mahut are now just 375 points ahead of Jamie Murray and Bruno Soares in the fight to end as the No 1 team for 2016. A total of 1,500 points is up for grabs at the season finale this week.
Next up for Raven and Klassen is a match against fifth seeds Henri Kontinen (Finland) and John Peers of Australia on Wednesday and Friday sees them taking on fourth-seeded Spaniards Marc and Feliciano Lopez.
Former Davis Cup player Jeff Coetzee is in London and shared his thoughts with the SASCOC website: ‘I thought they played a very good tactical match against the world’s No1 team. They stuck to the game plan even at critical times and executed really well.
‘Their next match vs Peers /Kontinen will be another tough task. They’re 0-2 against them, recently losing in Paris in two tough sets.
‘They’re the in form teams, winning Paris and beating Mahut/Peers in the final. So it would be nice to get revenge and pretty much qualify for the semi-final.

Picture of Klaasen and Ram courtesy of ATP World Tour


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