An email conversation with Richard Krajicek: 'Maybe my serve and volley could give Roger trouble'
Life in tennis after a top playing career; Directing the best to play in your event; Dealing with a streaker at Wimbledon
By Paul Newman
Published: 19 February 2007
You are tournament director of this week's ABN AMRO indoor event in Rotterdam, featuring nine of the world's top 20 male tennis players. Is recruiting players the most important aspect of your job?
Probably, yes. The most important parts are assembling the field, dealing with the media and my relationship with the ATP. If you have a Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Roddick in your field, life is much easier. If not, the relationship with the media becomes more important. Once the players have arrived, it's important to make sure they are happy and doing their job off the court as well as on it. My position as an ex-player helps. In a previous year, Lleyton Hewitt did more for the tournament than he was required to do, including making a long appearance with the main sponsor, ABN AMRO, after winning the final. He could not have been more helpful. I think it was partly because it was me asking him.
How many players in the field receive appearance money? And what is your total budget for appearance money?
The players are usually in the top 15 or 20, or maybe big names who are lower in the rankings for whatever reason. I cannot tell you our actual budget, but it is an important part of the tournament.
As well as your role as a tournament director you have a foundation which provides sporting facilities for underprivileged children, you play on the seniors tour and you work for ABN AMRO bank. You have also said you want to be the Netherlands' sports minister. What is the first change you would try to make if you got the job?
Bring sports back into school as a major activity. I would have to work with the schools minister to do that. There should be sports in schools and in the neighbourhoods in inner cities. That's what our foundation has tried to do - build playgrounds with fences around them where the kids can play sports without traffic interrupting them or bigger kids harassing them. These playgrounds are supervised. Kids are becoming more and more overweight, which makes it more difficult for the Health Department. Sports can help.
Your last seniors season ended in disappointment when you pulled out of the BlackRock Masters at the Royal Albert Hall with injury. How did you feel you played before then?
At times I played really well, and at others I realised I'm a bit older and don't practise enough! In my first event, in Paris, I got destroyed by Marcelo Rios and realised I couldn't play matches like that without practising. I still have my pride. So I contacted my old coach to prepare to play Marcelo in Eindhoven. No one had beaten him at that time and I was almost the first one to do so. I won the first set, but then my serve disappeared. And without my serve I am in trouble.
Which of the seniors hates to lose the most?
John McEnroe, no question. I played him at the Royal Albert Hall a couple of years ago and you can imagine how he was behaving when I beat him. I also played Boris Becker and he broke a racket at one point.
How often do you think about your Wimbledon win in 1996?
Subconsciously, every day. I owe a lot to that victory. It made me the biggest player in Holland in 20 years, maybe ever - although Tom Okker was also a big player. Without winning Wimbledon I would not have been able to create my foundation, work for the ABN AMRO Bank, be a tournament director or play on the Merrill Lynch Tour of Champions.
A streaker famously ran on to the court before the start of that Wimbledon final. Could you believe your eyes?
It felt pretty real to me! What did I think? Great! Actually I saw a lot of her - pretty much all of her - but because photographers were taking pictures of me I thought to myself: "Come on, focus, look in her eyes." In the picture I saw I was looking at eye-height and MaliVai Washington, my opponent, was looking down. Actually it was a good way to break the tension. It was the Wimbledon final, I was expected to win and I was very nervous.
If you were at your peak today how would you fare against Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal?
I think I would give Nadal trouble. The clay-courters never liked to play me because I kept the rallies short and they never had any rhythm. Maybe my serve-and-volley game could give Roger trouble. I used to beat Pete Sampras all the time by coming into the net. But the thing with Roger is that he makes Andy Roddick's serve look shitty. He gets all of his serves back. If he can get his serve back, he could get mine back. And if I don't have my serve, I am nothing.
Is it true that you want to play at Wimbledon in the mixed doubles with your sister Michaella, the current world No 66?
I'd like to, but I'm starting to wonder if this will ever happen. We've wanted to play for the last two years, but both times one of us had an injury.
You once described most women players as "fat pigs". Was that what you really believed?
It's a long time ago so I don't know if I really believed it or not. It was a bad statement to make. It was disrespectful. I could have said they were unfit, but to compare anyone with pigs is terrible. I should not have said anything of the sort.
You're married to Daphne Deckers, a best-selling Dutch writer who also appeared in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies. If people see you out together do they request her autograph or yours?
If we run into women, it is always my wife they want to speak to because she writes books for women and about how to raise kids. She writes them about her own experiences in a funny way. At tennis tournaments I get more attention, but on the street she does.
Britain meet the Netherlands in the Davis Cup in April. Britain have Tim Henman available again, plus Andy Murray. The Dutch have nobody in the world's top 140. Are Britain the hot favourites?
Definitely, but in the Davis Cup you never know. Some players play much better in the Davis Cup, others find it difficult. I found it difficult. We have a couple of good young players, but for sure it will be really tough.
How good is Murray? Can he win a Grand Slam tournament one day?
He is very, very good. I really wanted him in Rotterdam. Unfortunately for us, he wanted to defend his title in San Jose. He certainly has the potential to win a Grand Slam tournament and Brad Gilbert was a good appointment as coach. Will he win Wimbledon? It's impossible to say, but they tell me Wimbledon plays differently to when I played there, so he probably has a better chance now that it is slower.