Monday, 16 July 2018 00:18

Raven Has Tennis In His Blood but How Big is Club Tennis in Our Communities? Featured

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Ok we have to admit that before Raven Klaasen reached the 2018 Wimbledon Doubles Final we at had no clue who he is so we're not gonna tell you that glitter-sprinkled lie that claims we were behind him all the way.
Of course the fact that there is a bruinou making an international name for himself and earning great money playing tennis grabbed our attention, so we just had to find out more about him.

No, we didn't miraculously get an interview with Raven but we did some investigating and what we found was a really awesome story of dedication, sacrifice and hard work.      
We also really weren't surprised to find out that this is not Raven Klaasens first time playing on the hallowed Wimbledon lawns and in fact his first time playing there was as a seventeen year old junior, but more on that further below.    


It turns out that Raven Klaasen was literally born into the sport of tennis.
Raven has tennis in his blood and his parents literally paved the way for him.  
He was born in King William’s Town but the Klaasen family moved to Cape Town when Raven was about three years old.
Growing up in Kuils River, it was at around the age of five or six that he got his first proper tennis racket and that was when he joined the Kuils River Tennis Club while his parents were affiliated to the Bellville club from which they then moved over to also be at the Kuils River club.   

Klaasen who will be 36 in October turned professional in 2002 and though he hasn't reached the very top as a singles player (Highest Ranking No. 208 - 24 October 2011) he has steadily been making his name since changing his focus around 2012 from playing singles to touring the international doubles circuit. His current doubles ranking of No. 30 will now possibly be bumped up having reached the 2018 Wimbledon Doubles Final. His highest doubles ranking was No 9 on 11 July 2016.

Before reaching the 2018 Wimbledon Doubles Final with Kiwi partner Michael Venus and losing to the American team of Jack Sock and Mike Bryan, Klaasen's most notable achievement was reaching the 2014 Australian Open finals with partner Eric Butorac. Their run to the 2014 Australian Open final included a victory over the then World No. 1 team of Bob and Mike Bryan.

Now when we say that Raven was born into the sport of tennis we by no means aim to make light of the fact that it takes an extraordinary amount of dedication and hard work to become a great tennis player.
His journey to playing internationally at pro level took him away from home for most of his teenage years. From the age of 14 until he was 18 he lived away from his parents at the International Tennis Federation Tennis Academy in Pretoria. Once Raven turned 18 he went to the USA and spent the next four years in Florida only coming home to Cape Town when wasn’t playing tournaments.

An early highlight of Raven's career came when as a 17 year old in his last year as a junior he qualified to play at Wimbledon and though he did not win the title, that experience was confirmation for him that he would make a career out of playing tennis.         
Raven's parents of course have every reason to be immensely proud of him and he has high praises for the role they had in shaping his career.
In a 2016 interview he told Liam Moses of IOL Sport that his parents are the most inspirational people in his life.
"I’m very fortunate to have had parents who went that extra mile to create opportunities for me. My parents were the ones who were the driving factor behind my career because they sacrificed a lot of time and money to create opportunities for me. When I look back at how many things had to work out to get me to this point, it really wouldn’t be possible without what they did for me."
"It’s sort of a combination of having the right support structure, the right opportunities, and then meeting different people throughout the years who were like ‘we want to help you out and make things possible for you.’ I think that my biggest asset was given to me by my parents; they said ‘just show people that you’re willing to go that extra yard and they will want to help you.’ I think that is something that they instilled at an early age, and I have remembered that throughout."
"I’ve had some up and downs throughout my career, probably more downs. I’ve had knee surgeries where I have had to miss time from the game and that support structure from them always remained strong. They come from a different time in South Africa’s history and when you see their desire and passion for me to keep playing and reach my goals, it really motivates me to go on and achieve even more."
"When you do something as isolated and lonely as tennis, you need people that you can depend on in your corner when things aren’t going well. It’s not an easy profession to be in, and it’s not easy for a parent either because they had to let me go at an early age to give me the opportunities to play this sport. I certainly wouldn’t be sitting at 15th in the world (Raven's ranking in May 2016) if it wasn’t for them."     
Speaking of his parents... Raven happens to have great sporting genes and he particularly has an excellent tennis pedigree.   
His parents Japie and Yvonne were formidable tennis players under the SACOS banner during the Apartheid era which sadly meant that they wouldn't even be considered for selection to represent their country in any international competition.
We have many world class sporting heroes from that era in our communities who made the sacrifice of supporting the boycott on international sports participation in Apartheid South Africa - Ed  

According to a Facebook post by Mike Fraser "the success of their son Raven is just reward for the sacrifice and contribution of Japie and Yvonne to the cause for the fight for liberation and equality in our country."
Fraser continues: "Japie was an allrounder sporting great in the SACOS era."
Japie Klaasen was a Border Schools high jump champion and played rugby for Eastern Province.
Both Japie and his wife Yvonne, also from East London, represented Border in tennis.
So if South Africa has had great tennis players of colour during the dark days of Apartheid, why do we nowadays not hear of many tennis success stories from within our communities and why does it now seem like an inaccessible sport for most people of colour?
Unfortunately tennis is perceived to be a rich man's sport. The few public tennis courts in our under-privileged areas are either under-utilised or in total disrepair. Only a very few active tennis clubs exist in our communities
The only time kids in our areas show any bit of enthusiasm for tennis is when during the few sunny days of their June winter holidays, when the Wimbledon craze hits our TV screens; when a few of them ignore the threat of gang activity around them and draw chalk lines in the roads where they play with hand-made bats that have been sawn from planks.
In almost all of our local schools tennis is also not among the already few sporting codes on offer.
Sadly we will therefore not very likely see many kids from our communities who are not born into a tennis-playing families take it on as a competitive sport, let alone reach a professional level.
This is not withstanding the fact that clubs do exist in Cape Flats areas like Mitchell's Plain, Khayelitsha and Bonteheuwel but those are only in a very few of our communities and very few people in those communities are even aware of the existence of those clubs. 

Tennis South Africa does seem to have a development plan for when kids from our communities who are tennis club members or who are at schools (only a few of the top "Model-C" schools) which offer tennis prove that they are good enough to represent their provinces. That is the level at which intensive development starts taking place.
TSA's development program will definitely help the likes of now 12 year old Leo Mathyssen of Mitchell's Plain who shows great promise as a junior player. (See the video further below.) 
However very little seems to be done to promote the sport and make it more accessible to our kids right there in the communities we live in.
The general perception however is that there does not seem to be much "grassroots development" taking place.
Perhaps it is a case of not enough qualified coaches available or too few of them willing to coach in our areas.
Perhaps the crime levels in some of our areas prevent people from actively trying to grow the sport in our areas.

Perhaps a lot more is being done that we are unaware of....
We don't have all the answers but hopefully people active in the sport could comment at the end of this article with their thoughts and suggestions or tell us what is already being done promoting club tennis in our communities.

What we do know is that with most sports very few kids can excel without the active involvement and an immense amount of sacrifice from their parents or guardians.
As we see in Raven's as well as in young Leo's cases, their parents are very much a part of the driving force behind them thriving in their sport.
Yet, for most households in our communities, making those levels of sacrifices are just not possible.
Hopefully if more ways are found to get youngsters into the sport at a basic level close to where they live then those who show promise can be identified. Perhaps then creative ways and means can be found to support them even if their parents do not have the financial resources to do so.
That would be a real form of development and who knows... There could be a few more potential Raven's in our communities.          
Having said all of that, kids will only really excel and be happy playing a sport if it is what they love and they are willing to sacrifice other activities and do the hard work. 
We at believe that even with his great pedigree and having had the right opportunities and the necessary family support, Raven's success did not come easy and we congratulate him on his achievements in international tennis thus far and may he reach even higher levels of success from here on.  

Do you want to Play Tennis or Enrol Your Child at a Tennis Club?
See this--> Official List of Tennis South Africa affiliated clubs across SA