By Alana Mitchelson
(January 15, 2014) MELBOURNE – The pairing was always going to be a fun watch. People far and wide had been eagerly awaiting Pat Rafter’s surprise return to men’s doubles, partnered with fellow Aussie Lleyton Hewitt, but Eric Butorac and Raven Klaasen proved too strong to break and they clinched the match in two fairly straight forward sets over the Australians, 6-4, 7-5
But with the final result cast aside, the old timer and his close friend had the fun they had set out to experience and they were pleased to have refocused the public’s attention to how deserving the truly entertaining doubles game is of being showcased on the big, centre court stage.
“It’s always great fun being back out there with Lleyton. Having a player like him, you know you’re going to get a few games,” Rafter said in reflection of his comeback match.
“It was a bit of fun. It was a good crowd atmosphere out there. It was good for the tournament, I think,” Hewitt said.
”It’s not always about getting the result. As you could see, the buildup, the media and press and public and everything once we got announced in the draw, I think it was just good for the tournament and for Australian tennis.
“Pat helped me out when I first came into the Davis Cup team as a 15, 16-year-old. He took me under his wing, helped me out. We obviously played some massive Davis Cup matches together as well. We’ve got a pretty good friendship. It’s just nice to be out there. We still enjoy it, have a bit of a laugh.”
The Australians exhibited some elegant, classic style doubles, pressing up to the net for the deep volleys, but the American, Butorac, barely missed a shot and neither Hewitt or Rafter could make much of his consistently flat returns.
While their return of service was lacking in strategy, as Rafter was the first to admit after the match, both Australians delivered mostly solid service games throughout. Rafter offered much variation and Hewitt launched many body serves, forcing the player opposite the returning partner to step into more physically demanding play along the net.
“I served better than I thought I would. I volleyed okay,” Rafter said, reflecting on his lack of preparation.
“Gee, I wish I returned a bit better than that. And my second shot was just… forget it, it was horrible. It was actually laughable. At a certain stage, I was just laughing.
“I probably should have practised a bit more. I just didn’t return. I knew that was going to be the worst part of my game and it was.”
And Croatian former Grand Slam champion Goran Ivanisovic had a few digs at his old friend’s expense as Rafter explained.
“He said it was ‘f-ing bad’, not just bad, that it was really bad. I said, ‘yeah’. He said, ‘you served okay’
“Goran and I have been hanging out. We played a fair few tournaments with each other in Europe. We got to spend a fair amount of time with each other. He takes the piss out of me and he thinks it’s funny,” the Australian laughed, tongue-in-cheek.
Klaasen’s quick reflexes came so naturally at the net, allowing them to dominate their service games, and he and Butorac finished many a point with winners being their first volley on serve.
After the win, Butorac expressed how much respect he had for his 41-year-old tennis idol and told of how he initially had difficulty grasping the reality of playing the one and only Patrick Rafter in his Australian Open 2014 round one clash.
“I think I checked the draw about three times to check what I was really seeing,” Butorac said with a chuckle in the on court post-match interview.
“But it was an absolute honour to play out there with Pat. I’m actually renting an apartment with some friends and there’s an autographed Bonds T-shirt of Pat’s in my bedroom. So I’ve woken up to that the last three days.”