Eric Butorac has always had faith that hard work could lead to a moment like this, even if those who observed his professional tennis career from afar might have been skeptical.
Butorac, a Rochester native who played college tennis at Division III Gustavus Adolphus, started at the bottom. In past interviews, he has talked of sleeping on couches and eating spaghetti with a sauce of ketchup mixed with mayonnaise packets as he attempted to save money while playing on minor circuits.
Now he’s one victory away from being a Grand Slam champion.
Butorac and partner Raven Klaasen of South Africa have made a stunning run through the men’s doubles field at the Australian Open. The duo dispatched Bob and Mike Bryan, the legendary doubles duo, in straight sets. They won a hard-fought quarterfinal match and breezed through the semifinals.
At around 4:30 a.m. Central time Saturday, they will face Lukasz Kubot and Robert Lindstedt in the finals. The match is available online at ESPN3.com and also on the Tennis Channel.
“He’s extremely humble, but he’s always believed in himself,” said Butorac’s agent, Payum Payman, on Thursday. “And you can’t underestimate that. He’s always believed there is good tennis in him. Not only has his game gotten better, but his mind has gotten better. He’s one of the best tacticians on the doubles circuit.”
But he’s also the world’s 48th-ranked player in doubles, while Klaasen is 45th. Butorac is coming off what Payman termed “an awful year.” Despite that, he never stopped working or believing.
“I’m sure in his mind he was wondering, ‘what’s next, what’s going on?’ ” Payman said. “But he put in the same hard work he’s always done. He went down to Australia just looking to play good tennis.”
Butorac reached the doubles semifinals of the Australian Open in 2011, but he’s already eclipsed his best finish. Now he wants more.
“To be in the finals of a slam, it’s already going to cement his career as an amazing career given where he’s come from as a Division III tennis player,” Payman said. “But to win it? In sports, we have a tendency to underestimate what that means. To be able to put this run in, to win a Grand Slam, it would put him on a level that so few have gotten to.”