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By Arthur King
© Fred Mullane/Camerawork USA
© Arthur King

(June 3, 2010)
Richard Krajicek rewrote the record book when he snapped Pete Sampras' Wimbledon reign en route to the 1996 Wimbledon crown.

An all-court power player on court, Krajicek is an astute observer of the game and has authored four books since his injury-induced retirement.

The tournament director of the ABN AMRO World Tennis Championships in Rotterdam, Krajicek remains a popular presence in Holland where he runs his own charitable foundation devoted to helping change children's lives through sport.

Krajicek delivered crackerjack fireworks to the All England Club's lawns and has become a practiced presence in the diplomacy of using politics to improve society since his retirement.  
As dishes of strawberries and cream are digested in the corporate area, 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek is playing doubles with Jeremy Bates, Mansour Bahrami and Paul McNamee  in entertaining the audience on the pristine-manicured grass courts at the Northern tennis club.

Wimbledon of the North, 100 years at the Northern
, by David Allaby, documents the history of this old tennis club. Ander Borg’s inaugural Manchester Tennis Masters is bathed in the bright sun shine, serving as nature's spotlight.

This is a trio of grass-court tennis events the Norwegian impresario has promoted this summer during the grass court season in England. The others are staged in Liverpool,which celebrated its 10th year and Nottingham.

The towering Krajicek is still hitting his famous crackerjack serves, but off court this author of four books and the founder and driving force behind The Richard Krajicek Foundation that provides sports facilities for children in inner-city areas in the Netherlands. The foundation  has built more than 70 playgrounds in an effort to promote health and physical fitness for disadvantaged inner-city youth.

Krajicek has become a philanthropic force who now intends to set up a ministry of sport in Holland. Off court maturity and life experience has helped Krajicek develop into an articulate intellectual visionary for sport in Holland.

The man who swept Wimbledon king Pete Sampras in straight sets in the 1996 Wimbledon quarterfinals looks as lean and fit as the day he raised an eyebrow at the streaker who flashed across Centre Court prior to Krajicek's crushing 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 conquest of MaliVai Washington in the '96 final.

An engaging and enthusiastic conversationalist, Krajicek speaks with passion and gestures frequently as we sat inside, away from the glare of the hot sun, in the corporate room of the Northern tennis club. Krajicek, who had justs come off the court after playing mixed doubles with another Wimbledon winner, Martina Hingis, discusses his triumph at The Championships, his struggle to cope with injury-enforced retirement and his work with the political party VVD in this interview.


Arthur King: When you retired you said the first six months of retirement was very tough for you and initially the two or three months it was a relief, like a holiday. How did you adjust to retirement?

Richard Krajicek: Yes, exactly the first six months weren’t tough the first three months were nice the second three months was tough.

Arthur King: Do you think there should be something done for sportsmen, like counseling or a transitional back into society rather than a complete detachment? Should the ATP   help players transition to life away from tennis?

Richard Krajicek: Yes. I mean they could in a way but I don’t know, I think it happens to anybody in retirement. We promise we go into retirement at 30, 33 or maybe 35, but if you talk to anybody who retires from his job at 60 or 65 or whatever age they retire their routine changes, and that takes a little while. Like suddenly before I was No. 4 in the world, I was one of the top players and I just said to myself 'Get used to it.'  I was used to being No. 4 and the training, then suddenly probably there will be nothing. The routine of training and traveling I was pretty sure yes that was difficult,  but it is something you have to go through. I don’t know if counseling would help but maybe you have a little warning and not just with tennis players most people have to cope with it when they retire. 

Arthur King:  How did you deal with it? 

Richard Krajicek: You just have to go through it. I had three really bad months. I was really down and I felt that really I had no direction, even though I already had things to do: I was a tournament director, I had a job in the bank. I set up a special unit with someone from the bank and so I was busy all the time. I had something to do. I was really busy all the time, but coming to terms with coming out of tennis and getting away from the job you have done so much especially since I was three years old,  that takes some time. Then I remember I went with my wife to Paris after Christmas and that was my low point. I was really down and bad. I was like 'Jesus, I just couldn’t sleep.' So at the New Year I said 'This is it.'  I took myself by the…I don’t know how you say it in English.  Now it is enough I have to be happy with what I have achieved as a tennis player: I have a great job, great family, great kids and I shouldn’t have to worry about what is happening in six months or 12 months just enjoy, do the job as good as you can, go with the flow. Basically, actually New Year's eve was for me my New Year's resolution, stop complaining about it three months was long enough to feel down about it and maybe I was fortunate. I was lucky I was the only Dutchman to be in the Grand Slam (in my generation). In Holland, I got a lot of opportunities. Maybe that also helps. 


Arthur King: During Pete Sampras' dominance at Wimbledon you were the only player to defeat him and win the title. That must have given you true satisfaction to beat the dominant Wimbledon champion in straight sets was an impressive achievement. 

Richard Krajicek: Yeah, Wimbledon was fantastic. But the only way to beat the big legend at Wimbledon, the defending champion Pete Sampras made it extra sweet. You know, it was the extra cherry on the cake 

Arthur King: Did you have any tactics going into that match and did you feel you could beat him?

Richard Krajicek: I had beaten him a few times before and my philosophy was always: 'I have a big game and I am always tough to break so they don’t like to play me.' And knowing that I am going to serve well and just hold serve and then slowly try to return my way from his serve and see how it goes. But I was really focused on my own serve and as long as I hold my own serve, then you cannot lose a set until a tie break, maybe probably, so that was my strategy. I tried to focus on the serve and accept that the first serve and the first few games that he is going to outplay me, but slowly if I stay sharp and keep serving well and keep my focus on the volley and after it that is how I beat him in the past. I kept focused on his backhand and it would break down after a while. I don’t know if it really broke down in that match, but I just stayed very focused. 

Arthur King: After that win, a big win like that, there is usually a let down in the next round. How did you and your coach cope with it and avoiding that emotional and mental let down in the next two rounds?

Richard Krajicek: I had the feeling I was playing really well and I already made the semifinals once in Australia and I have made some good results once in the tournaments before that. And also, I had lost after a big win (before) so this win, I won’t say means nothing, but it means less if I don't win the title so let's not be satisfied yet. It's nice, but the determination is still going on so the key word is not being satisfied. Also if you see the way I was celebrating my victories during the tournament it was always very low key. I just put my arms up, nothing too much because I kept the happiness inside me basically. I didn’t want to get the emotion up because I was in my brain as soon as I won happy, now the next round that was the only thing I was thinking. 

Arthur King: When did you know this title was for real? 

Richard Krajicek: I think when I made the double break in the third set against Washington. I played an unbelievable game. It was very good, but the second set was not good. But he missed an easy volley for me to break him. It was a very tired second set, but I won that also and then I was 3-1 up in the third. I played a fantastic game — maybe my best game of the tournament — I played a great pass to break him and then I thought 'I can win this.'  And then the first time I dropped my serve in the match so that is always a danger when you start thinking that you can win — you start to feel the pressure so at 4-1 I dropped my serve suddenly. 

Arthur King: You took Thomas Muster’s place in the Wimbledon draw of 1996 because you weren’t seeded. How much luck did you think was involved in winning a major?

Richard Krajicek: Yeah, there is some luck involved because maybe I could play in the  first and second round someone like Goran Ivanisevic, who I don’t like (to play). By the time I was in the semifinals he had lost in the quarterfinals. So there are a few players you don’t want to play and maybe if I was not seeded I would have played them. So, yes, you always need a little bit of luck. It is important, but you have to take the opportunity that you get so you know  with luck you get opportunities, but sometimes you do not take them. But this is the thing that is your responsibility: when opportunity knocks, you open the door 

Arthur King: The match recently between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut and was the longest in history. John McEnroe stated that it would take six  months for them to recover. Does tennis need to change the final set and add that tie break as teh US Open does in the fifth sest, to protect the players’ health? 

Richard Krajicek: I think there should be like a mercy tiebreak in the last set. If you look at the stats there have been some matches 16-14, 18-16, 20-18,  but 25 to 25 games, you say 'Ok, if the set goes to 25-all,  the guys are serving so well, maybe a 10-point tie break is fair.' Because it is a longer tie break, but something like that maybe it is a good idea maybe it won’t happen again. I think once you have 35, 33 something like that, I think that was the previous record of a set but maybe I think it would not be a bad idea at all. But during the match you cannot change because the guy who loses at that rate is going to be so upset.


Arthur King: You had injuries to your knees and elbows. Cortisone is still widely used and yet it is well documented that is dissolves bones and tissues. There is still ignorance today how do you start to find out what is the best treatment and who are the best surgeons?

Richard Krajicek: I was very fortunate with my medical staff. I had a very good sports' doctor and he worked for the Dutch Olympic team also. And people from all over the world came to him, and what I liked about him he always told me the truth he never said 'No, you’ll be walking in two months' something like that if it was a serious injury. You have to take your time you have to do this, this, and this and cortisone you know I take it sometimes a little diluted because I have injured (it again). I put a little bit to take the inflammation away, but I never injected it into a tendon because if the tendon tears it tears. I never do that, you have to know and get a good doctor to do it. In the end, I took it in not dangerous spots like the elbows otherwise I couldn’t play. So the last eight months after the 20 months off  after the third or fourth shot the pain never went away and that is why I retired.

Arthur King: There is talk that a player is born with mental toughness yet you started with nerves and became a champion. What was the significant point in your career when the nerves went away?

Richard Krajicek: I don’t know if I started with nerves, but I wasn’t the hardest worker when I was a junior and that I learned when I was on tour I was looking at good players like Edberg, how he prepared for a match, and I wanted to be good.

Arthur King: When you looked at Edberg did you speak to Tony Pickard? 

Richard Krajicek: I always look from a distance and see how serious he is. I try to train with him, I just want to be good. In the summer after Wimbledon, I always went to Austria for 10 days. In the morning I was doing cross country skiing in the afternoon cycling, running, weights. I was doing a 10-day holiday, but without tennis. I was doing sports trying to get better by the end of the year, also. And this was fun in the summer in Austria in the morning you are wearing a shirt on the glacier doing cross country skiing in the snow and I really liked it. So I tried to get better and stronger and better. And I also knew that if a get stronger it was better for my injuries. I would get less injuries so also it was one of the reasons I was always working hard to get stronger and yes I was complaining a lot on the courts, getting angry and crying as a junior and sometimes later on, but I was always a fighter. I had a good record in the finals. I hated to lose and sometimes I would hamper myself to being too negative on the court and taking too much energy away. But it was only because I wanted to win. But if I was a little bit better with my energy, I think I really changed when I came on the ATP Tour and the second big change came was after I won Wimbledon. I relaxed a bit more and I think I matured a lot from that moment on. I was getting more out of my training and not getting angry in training when I didn’t play good. So I think I was an easier player for my coach to work with, but until I was 24 till I won Wimbledon I was a very difficult player to work. And I want to thank my coach, Rohan Goetzke, a lot. He had a lot of patience with me. The simple thing was on the tennis side. I think he was a great coach. He understood my game, he knew what my strengths were, but that is not why you stay with a coach so long. I liked the mental way he approached me. He was tough on me, but he knew when to leave me alone, he knew when not to let me get away with certain behavior, he let me be for the rest of the day and would talk to me about it the next day and we went through phases together. We went from 400 to number 4 and the Wimbledon title and at the beginning he was my coach and at the end he was still my coach, but more like a big brother to me. And we become friends so not straight away buddy-buddy but good relationship. Even though I was paying him we had the professionality [sic] I pay him but we forget about that. He is the boss, he decides about how I should train, what I should do because as soon as you think 'I am paying you, you should do what I say it,' then it is is a waste of money to have a coach. So the coach is in charge 

Arthur King: You were involved with politics with the VDD party (liberals) and would like to be the first minister of sports. The world of politics is sometimes drawn out, Richard, and there is sometimes no end result. How do you see yourself in politics? 

Richard Krajicek: I see myself in different role, it is an old quote from a year-and-a-half ago for a year and half about, I started. Now I co-wrote the program for the party, a sports' paragraph, so we won the election, the party VDD it puts more money into sports every year over 200 millions euros more. So that is nice. My goal is to make sports a more important part in politics pushing it from the background like writing the program. I know a few high-level people in the VDD party and eventually have a ministry of sports which we don’t have. So I let go because it is not very clear ambition —  I want to be minister of sports because it is not what I want no, I want I want a ministry of sports. It is not good to say I want to be a minister of sports because it is like my own ambition. I think sports is so important for society for three  reasons: national pride, health, more and more kids and adults are being overweight in Holland and the social aspect is what we do with our project we bring sports to the inner-city  neighborhoods, we do research into what it does for the kids, giving them chances, we try to  get them to school. Every year we give 50 scholarships to the kids who are on our play grounds to become sports teachers so give them a future and those three things I think sport is important for and I try to get it on the political agenda. So minister of sport if not my ambition anymore. I have seen a few ministers go who are very strong intelligent people, but politics is for the politicians. But with my knowledge I have for my foundation the research we will do I try to push  to have sports on the agenda as high as possible in Holland. We have a pretty good program in Holland, junior-wise, but I think England is a bad example because of course you have Wimbledon compared to tennis football has so much more money. In Holland tennis is the second sport, participation-wise as 1.3 million people play football, 700,000 play tennis, then field hockey at 230,000. It is a big gap and so there is not a lot of money in tennis programs. I think with the money we have we have a good junior program. The problem is to take the step from junior to professional.  Thiemo de Bakker was the No. 1 Wimbledon junior champion in the world three years ago until a year ago he finally saw how he has to live as a professional and work hard. And now he did, but the step took him two years to become a professional in his brain, in the way he was training and actin. So there is more difficult step for us, but if you look at our junior results they are pretty good for a small country like Holland and the force can always be better or more intense, but with the money we have and the budget is like 1/50th or 1/80th of what England has so I think we are doing very well."        

Arthur King is a Liverpool-based tennis and health researcher and writer. An avid tennis player and technician, he is an accomplished yoga instructor. Please visit his website at   



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