Eric Butorac (bottom) and Raven Klaasen have teamed to knock off Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan and Lleyton Hewitt and Patrick Rafter at this year's Australian Open.
© Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – On a breezy Monday at the Australian Open, Eric Butorac pulled off something he had never managed before – taking down the great Bryan brothers at a Grand Slam. The Minnesota native had scored one victory before over Bob and Mike in Shanghai, but nothing like he and doubles partner, Raven Klaasen of South Africa pulled off in Melbourne, ousting the world No. 1s and defending champions, 7-6, 6-4, in the third round.
With the victory, Butorac, 32, and Klaasen handed the twins their earliest exit from the Aussie Open in 11 years.
“I always say I played the Bryans tight, five of them were close and 10 of them were losses,” Butorac said with a laugh. “It’s finding that balance and being aggressive because you can’t just play passive and hope they are going to miss. It’s knowing our game was good enough to win. There were times today they were throwing up lobs and we were missing overheads and we said we have the structures, we have these plays and we cover these areas of the court and it is very tough to beat us. We can still get through this and today we were able to right the ship in any troubled waters.”
The Bryans own six Australian Open titles – all won in the past eight tournaments – and hadn’t lost this early at Melbourne Park since 2003. Moreover, they hadn’t lost a match in straight sets since June 2012.
“They’re the best in the business,” Butorac said of his compatriots.
But the fairly new combination of Butorac and Klaasen have clicked quickly. Their first tournament win together was only last September at the Malaysian Open, but they feel like their strengths complement each other – particularly on a day like Monday, when Butorac’s serve was on.
“Eric is a good player and he serves to me pretty tough in the deuce court because he has that hook down the T and he can hit the wide one well,” said Bob Bryan. “The next time, if he is serving that tough, we might have to pull the switch-eroo [change return sides].”
Last year was a tough one for Butorac, who rotated through multiple partners throughout the year. He called it staying alive on circuit, and it was representative of how hard it is for doubles specialists to find a partner who is both a good fit and who is close enough to them in the rankings that they can get direct entries into top events.
“Cross out guys who are already in a partnership, cross out the guys who are singles players or don't speak the same language, and guys who don't play the right side, so at the end of the day you only have one or two options. So it’s really tough,” said Butorac, who came into the Australian Open ranked No. 48. “But even though we live at the other side of the world, when you find something that works this well you want to make it count.”
Butorac, a semifinalist at the 2011 Australian Open with Jean-Julien Rojer, said that in 2013 a friend of his suggested that he take a look at Klaasen as a potential partner, so he went to watch him play at tournament in Stockholm and the right-hander was “awful. I said ‘Forget that,’” he recalled with a laugh. “But he had just flown in and it was one of his worst matches of the year. It still took us almost another year to partner, but by the end of last year we knew we were playing a good level of tennis.”
The duo finally came together after the 2013 US Open. They played against each other at the tournament – Butorac won with partner Frederik Nielsen before losing to the Bryans in the second round – and thought their games might fit together, so they made a plan for the fall season. Klaasen said that when they met up at the US Open they felt that they spoke the same language and that it was just matter of ironing out the creases.
The duo needed to do so quickly in Melbourne. In the first round, they drew two local legends in the form of two-time US Open singles champion Patrick Rafter, who came out of retirement for the match, and 2001 US Open champ Lleyton Hewitt.
Butorac is renting an apartment during the event. In the bedroom there is no artwork except for a framed autographed T-shirt of Rafter’s on the wall.
“So I am waking up and seeing the shirt and all of sudden I see him in the draw and say ‘You have got to be kidding me,’” said Butorac, who did admire the serve and volleyer growing up and used to play with one of the Aussie’s racquets.
He and Klaasen put on a fine performance on the tournament’s second largest show court in front of packed house, winning the match, 6-4, 7-5. They relished the occasion after playing so many doubles matches on backcourts in front of sparse crowds.
“We had some nerves, but we finally on got to be on a big arena and said ‘Let’s embrace it, this is why we play tennis,’” said Butorac. “We’ve been waiting our whole lives to be on a court like Hisense Arena, and to be on TV, you just have to enjoy it.”
For more coverage of Americans at the 2014 Australian Open, please also read:
After loss, Serena will work like she's ranked No. 1,000
Stephens ready for another second week charge
Older and wiser, Young is on the rise
Riske opens her mind to success
Sock ready to make his move sooner rather than later
Refreshed Querrey ready to take more risks
Mattek-Sands going with her own flow
For Harrison, big year and big expectations
Teenager Keys ready to go
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