Cape Town – It is not quite the final hurdle – which will emerge next week in the Paris Masters tournament – but South African candidates for the elite ATP Finals have stumbled against the odds near the finishing post.
And after the shock first round defeats suffered this week by Kevin Anderson in the Vienna Open singles and Raven Klaasen in the Swiss Open doubles, with USA partner Rajeev Ram, the previously bright prospect of some form of South African participation at the gala tournament in London next month is now in serious jeopardy.
With Anderson and Klaasen both on the borderline of qualification for one of the eight places in their respective events, gleaning a fair number of additional ranking points appeared almost essential.
And the draws seemed to favour the South Africans. Instead the 16th ranked and seventh seeded Anderson went down 6-4, 6-4 to 82nd ranked Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in his opening match and Klaasen and Ram lost 3-6, 6-3, 10-7 to the scratch pairing of Jack Sock and Nicholas Monroe.
The implication of these losses is that Anderson remains effectively in 10th place for one of the eight qualification places – with Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta meanwhile strengthening his hold on eighth position – while Klaasen and Ram have slipped from eighth to ninth position in the doubles race.
Unless Carreno Busta now continues making sufficient substantial progress in Vienna to seal his qualification for London, Anderson can still make it to the ATP Finals with a repeat in the Paris Open of a performance similar to his recent reaching of the US Open Final.
Klaasen's fate would appear more in his own and Ram's hands, but with a recent dip in form not encouraging.
But expect the Klaasen-Ram duo to make an all-out bid to repeat last year's qualification for London, particularly as they were within a whisker of becoming ATP World Final champions when they made the final last time around.