'Federer can be the best ever'
November 18, 2004 | 18:43 IST
Richard Krajicek will always be remembered for two reasons: his Wimbledon triumph in 1996, when he became the only man in an eight-year period to beat Pete Sampras at the grass court Grand Slam, and his (in)famous comment on women's tennis.
"I may have exaggerated a bit when I said that 80 per cent of the top 100 women are fat pigs. What I meant to say was 75 per cent of the top 100 women are fat pigs," he had said in 1992. Later he apologized for the comment, but the tag had stuck.
The Dutchman, who retired from competitive tennis is 2003 is in Mumbai to promote the ABN AMRO Tennis Challenge, a tournament that will award the winner a wild card entry to the 2005 ABN AMRO World Tennis tournament in Rotterdam.
Senior correspondent Ashish Magotra caught up the 32-year-old winner of 17 ATP singles titles.
After your triumph at Wimbledon in 1996, things did not go very well considering the plethora of injuries you suffered. Were the injuries the first and foremost reason that made you quit the game?
From '96 till around '99 things were still going okay. I won a couple of tournaments and even reached number four in the world, which is my highest ranking. But in 2000, the injuries really started to kick in and my elbow gave a lot of problems. At the end of the year I had to take 20 months off before I could come back into the game.
But, then again, I had to stop because there was too much pain or too much trouble. After I retired I still had one more elbow surgery just to be able to do normal things.
In 1996 you beat Pete Sampras in his prime; on his favourite surface, grass. People say he is the greatest grass court player ever. Do you agree?
Well, I haven't played against everybody [all the greats], like Rod Laver for example. But Sampras was a very good player. He used to move very well, had a big serve and an all-court game. Guys like John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and Stefan Edberg were also very good grass court players. But, then, Sampras won Wimbledon six times and that automatically puts him among the greatest.
Have you ever played better than at Wimbledon in 1996?
Maybe, one other match better; but if you look at the tournament as a whole, I played very high quality tennis for seven matches and raised my game when I needed to. I was serving good but was returning especially well, which was a weakness in my game. So not only was I serving well, but I was also breaking these other guys, and they felt the pressure.
What do you think of Roger Federer, the Swiss world number one?
If you are only looking at the tennis and what he has done last year, you will think that he is better than Pete. Which, maybe, he is. But Pete had the desire to play at the highest level for so many years. That is very difficult, mentally. That in turn is the biggest question for Federer. Can he maintain the high level over six-seven years to break the record of 14 Grand Slams? Will he be able to remain world number one for five-six years in a row?
That is actually the only thing he is yet to prove. But if he continues to play tennis like this, he will definitely break Pete's record. Federer can be the best ever; he has the potential. The only question is whether he has the desire.
Among all the younger players, who do you think is most capable of challenging Federer at his best?
I think they all have their own weapons. When Federer is playing at his best he is a very difficult player to beat. But if you look at Marat Safin and the way he can play from the back of the court, he is very talented as well. So, I think he can match up to him.
[Andy] Roddick can challenge him as well if he serves big consistently for the entire match. If he does that, then he is tough to break even for a guy like Federer.
Hewitt is such a fighter on the court; he never gives up. They all have qualities to beat him. But tennis-wise, it's all so simple and easy for Roger. You can say that if they play ten times, Roger will win most of the matches. But all these guys have qualities to beat him. One important fact is that against these three guys, Roger has to play at his best or else they will take over.
With the exception of Scheng Schalken, and to an extent Martin Verkerk, there seems to be no young Dutch players making a mark in the international circuit. Is Dutch tennis going downhill?
Well, at the moment we are struggling. We have Schalken and Verkerk [French Open finalist] as our two top 20 players, but other than that the cupboard is bare. The only young player who might make a mark in the near future is Misha Krajicek, my sister, who is 15 years old. She won the US Open Juniors and is ranked number one in the juniors now.
She just won her third $10,000 event and has a world ranking of around 400. She is probably the biggest prospect for Dutch tennis.
Are you thinking of coaching her?
Coaching is a big word. I am trying to help a little bit. I am playing a bit with her, offering her tips and, maybe, next year I will go to a few tournaments with her. But the problem with coaching is that it is a full-time job. By that I mean for at least 40 weeks in a year you have to be with the player, either travelling or training. Right now I don't want to do that.
I have a young family; my son is four years old and my daughter is six. So I want to spend time with them as well. My father's coaching Misha and I just might help from time to time.
Do you have any abiding memories from the game?
Winning Wimbledon was indeed a very special moment for me. In its own way it made everything good and acceptable. Now that I have retired, and even though I wanted to play more, I can always look back and say that at least I won Wimbledon; also, winning the tournament in Rotterdam in 1995.
For the first couple of years I played really bad tennis. It was so bad that they booed me off the court. Then, in 1995 I won the tournament there, four years after I first played there. It was a very special moment as well.
There are a lot of good memories, and because I was injured, during the rehab, I met my wife. The tennis was very good but the injuries were good for something too.
When you look at women's tennis [Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Jennifier Capriati and more] and men's tennis [Federer, Safin, Roddick, Hewitt], which section do you think is more interesting?
I like to watch men's tennis more. I think Roger Federer is superb. He is like the replacement for Pete Sampras. He has so much ability and it is just a joy to see him play. You have Lleyton Hewitt, who is a real character on the court; he fights and he jumps. There is always something happening with him; he is much smaller than most of his opponents but somehow he always manages to get on top of most of them. Roddick has good presence on the court and has so much adrenalin. Safin, in his way, is very talented. It is a joy to watch them play; it is tennis of a very high quality.
Who is your favourite tennis player of all-time?
I always liked serve-and-volley players and big athletes. I think Stefan Edberg and Patrick Rafter were a real joy to watch. Both were very strong and came to the net a lot. It was always very interesting to watch them play against base-liners. Contrasting styles is always the most fun to watch.
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