Richard Krajicek, known in tennis circles for his big serve and his big mouth, came up big in another way last weekend. A tall (6'5"), rangy (190 pounds) and fiercely independent Dutchman, Krajicek won his second straight Volvo-Los Angeles championship by upsetting the world's top-ranked player, Wimbledon champ Pete Sampras, in Saturday's semifinals and Michael Chang in Sunday's final. The 0-6, 7-6, 7-6 thriller over Chang was one of the best matches of the year and knocked Krajicek's world ranking up two slots, to No. 8.
"His serve really bailed him out," said Chang in reference to what John McEnroe calls "the best serve I've ever seen." Last year Krajicek's rockets were clocked at 132 mph, fastest on the ATP Tour.
Krajicek is the first player from the Netherlands in the Top 10 since Tom Okker in 1975. "I had to wear wooden shoes on the court until I was seven!" he says, barely containing a smile. "Then my father bought me the mahogany 'Air' version. What a relief!"
Actually, Krajicek, 21, is the son of Czech èmigrès who lied their homeland shortly after the Soviet intervention in 1968. On their way to Sweden they stopped in Rotterdam to visit friends. They never left. "I have no idea why my parents had to escape," Krajicek says. "Some people are interested in such things. I'm less interested." That reserved exterior can be misleading. He still flinches at the memory of his most stinging defeat, a loss to his sister, Lenka, at age eight. Lenka, then 15, thrashed him righthanded, then lefty. "The worst day of my tennis life," he says. "My father asked me who had won, and I cried."
Weaned on Dutch clay, Krajicek began as a baseliner, reveling in endless rallies. That changed at 16, when he began growing...and growing.... Ten inches in two years. "I couldn't get my shots into the court," he recalls. "The ground suddenly seemed farther away." Eventually, Krajicek harnessed his height, and under the tutelage of coach Rohan Goetzke of Australia he developed a whipping forehand and began rushing the net. Now Krajicek's "team" also includes Ted Troost, a fellow who practices a relaxation technique based on touching. "By the end of each treatment," says Krajicek, "you can grab the skin on my back and lift me off the table."
On court Krajicek relics more on power than touch. "Boring tennis!" Jim Courier once said about Krajicek's sandblasting style. Counters Krajicek, "My way to win is to hit big serves; his is to hit big forehands. Maybe it's boring when Courier hits winners all the time!"
Krajicek's mouth can be as explosive as his serve. He has been attacked in Holland's editorial pages for his outspoken views on subjects ranging from local politics to the Dutch welfare state and for moving to Monaco to save on taxes. And at Wimbledon in '92 the British tabloids dubbed Krajicek the Rotterdam Rotter for saying, "Eighty percent of the top women players are fat, lazy pigs who should not be allowed on the show courts." Under pressure the Rotter retreated. Sort of. "I was exaggerating a bit," he said. "I meant 75 percent."
Clonk that man with a wooden shoe!