Kuils River’s tennis star

Jasper Japie Klaasen could barely conceal his pride ahead of his son Ravens appearance in the mens doubles final, at Wimbledon, at the weekend. Picture: Fuad Esack

Despite the outcome of the weekend’s final, which saw Klaasen and partner Mike Venus, from New Zealand, lose an epic battle against the American duo, Mike Bryan and Jack Sock, his name will forever be written among the stars in tennis history.

This was a big moment, and the stage doesn’t get any bigger than going up against the tournament favourites in a Wimbledon final.

Klaasen, along with fellow South Africans, men’s single finalist Kevin Anderson and wheelchair tennis player Kgothatso Montjane, who lost in the semi-finals, faced some of the biggest names and eventual winners in their respective divisions – Bryan and Sock, Serbian Novak Djokovic and Diede de Goede from the Netherlands. Of course there’s no shame in losing to the best of the best…

In a British interview ahead of the weekend’s nail-biting final, Klaasen appeared confident, despite it being his maiden appearance in a Wimbledon final.

In 2014, Klaasen and a former partner, American Eric Butorac, played and lost in the men’s doubles final at the Australian Open. In 2016, he reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon with another American, Ranjeev Ram.

Stunning victories in this year’s Wimbledon quarter and semi-finals paved the way for his first appearance in a final match.

“You come here every year and you hope to do well. You prepare yourself to get to this stage. I’ve had a taste of semi-finals before, and to go a step further is spectacular,” said Klaasen, the eldest of three siblings. Klaasen, from Kuils River, was introduced to the game at an early age by his parents, Jasper and Yvonne, both heavily involved with the sport for almost their entire lives.

With a name like Raven, Klaasen was meant to soar as he followed in the footsteps of his father and his grandfather, who, if things were different when they grew up, might have reached a similar level of success.

Originally from King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape, Jasper, or Japie, as he’s popularly known, is a Tennis South Africa board member tasked with looking after the interest of SA players taking part in the Davis Cup, the women’s Federation Cup and all other international competitions.

He had achieved relative success on the courts during the SACOS-era when the sport, like everything else in South Africa at the time, was divided along racial lines.

Northern News caught up with Japie and the rest of the Klaasen clan who had gathered at the family home in Mabille Park, in Kuils River, to watch the big final matches on television.

And, boy oh boy, the Klaasens don’t like the game, they’re totally tennis mad. Everyone was there, except his mother who’s in hospital, his grandfather, John, who died earlier this year at the age of 91 and his younger brother who’s currently abroad.

Japie said his son also excelled at rugby, cricket, athletics and even at squash, for which he was ranked number one in his division at some point. But like his father and grandfather before him, the younger Klaasen settled on tennis at the age of 13 and established himself as a specialist doubles player.

But he’s not the only one in the family good at ball sports – his sister, Lynne, 33, won a four-year tennis scholarship to study at a university in America a few years ago and baby brother, Kevin, 26, was once a promising junior with a bright future in the game.

While everyone had their eyes glued to the screen, Japie took some time out to chat about his son and the family’s collective love for the sport.

“My dad played the game, and I married a tennis player, so Raven grew up in a tennis environment.

“My wife used to coach him before until he was about six years old, and then I took over between eight and nine,” said Japie, who featured among the province and the country’s top-ranked players in the 80s.

“We played a lot of tennis, league matches and for Western Province. We travelled to Rondebosch nearly every day to play tennis. I used to wake Raven up at 4.40am to go and play.

“Playing at Wimbledon is already a privilege, but going to a Wimbledon final is an absolute privilege. We are very grateful that Raven could make it through to the final. I’m happy to have my mother here today.

“My father passed away in March but hopefully his spirit is here with us today,” he said.