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INSIDE TRACK | SUNDAY SCENE

Krajicek Used to Serve Up Controversial Comments

July 28, 1996|THOMAS BONK

That tennis, it sure is a funny game.

For instance, the most important tournament in the world is played on grass in England, which is odd because England hasn't produced a good tennis player since Big Ben was a pocket watch, and most players think grass is better suited to be an integral part of a cow's diet than a tennis court.

This brings us now to our reigning Wimbledon champion.

He is the Dutch-born son of Czech parents who fled to Rotterdam in 1970, who grew seven inches in two years to 6 feet 5, who lives in Monte Carlo, who likes designer clothes and spy novels, who hits serves so hard they splat the court like balls dropped out of an airplane, who lost in the first round of Wimbledon the last two years and who never had gotten past the semifinals in his 21 previous Grand Slam tournaments.

If that sounds like a roundabout path to a sport's ultimate success, it doesn't really matter much, because 24-year-old Richard Krajicek has been finding his own way around the tennis game for a long time now.

Sometimes, he has even gotten himself into trouble. The worst probably was in 1992 at Wimbledon, where Krajicek became known for not only his big serve, but for his big mouth.

That was the now famous occasion when he said 80% of women's tennis players were "fat, lazy pigs."

When challenged on his comments, he said he had exaggerated. Krajicek said he meant 75%.

Well, it didn't take him long to realize he should have played the percentages better and kept his opinion to himself. It's just that he has had a hard time doing that.

Krajicek got Dutch journalists on his case when he left the Netherlands to live in the tax haven of Monaco. He also made them mad when he offered his thoughts on taxes and welfare in Holland.

Actually, Krajicek and the Dutch tennis press had experienced a falling out at the 1991 U.S. Open, when he played without a cap in the hot sun, got dehydrated and lost a five-set match to Ivan Lendl. The reporters took it personally and thought Krajicek might have planned a little better.

Afterward, Krajicek said he felt the sun burning right through his head. You know that's got to hurt.

He is hardly a hot-head in real life, although he did get frustrated during one match and whacked a potted plant with his racket, but narrowly avoided a warning for chrysanthemum abuse.

Krajicek apparently has decided it is no longer worth it to go around feuding with Dutch journalists. To prove it, he is dating one. His girlfriend is Daphne Deckers, a Dutch television personality and the host of a travel show.

Since his victory over Mal Washington in the Wimbledon final, Krajicek did just what you'd expect. He traveled. Krajicek took off for an Austrian resort for a vacation that included cross-country skiing, lifting weights and trying not to be standing on the Ramsau Dachstein glacier if it starts to melt.

This week, Krajicek will be in town for the Infiniti Open at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA, where he will try to melt the concrete courts with his blast-furnace serves.

On the concrete courts, the game is the same every summer for the big servers. It's the survival of the fastest.

You start making lists of the players with the overheated serves and it isn't a very long one. There are Goran Ivanisevic and Pete Sampras and Mark Rosset and Greg Rusedski and Boris Becker and Krajicek.

Krajicek's serves have been clocked as high as 134 mph.

But the good thing about Krajicek is that he can back up his serve with a soft touch. John McEnroe, who was one of the best at placing a serve where he wanted it and then volleying behind it, said Krajicek has the ability to be an even more accomplished all-around player than he already is.

This probably would be something for Krajicek to pursue, namely because he sometimes serves the ball so hard, his shoulder seems in danger of becoming unhinged. In fact, Krajicek has experienced shoulder problems in addition to knee problems that he believes are chronic and caused by a growth spurt when he was 16.

That was basically the same time he switched from a two-handed to a one-handed backhand and began playing a serve-and-volley style as if he meant for it to take him somewhere.

It turned out to be a victory lap around Center Court at Wimbledon. Big time tennis just went Dutch.

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