MASTERS OF SPORTS: Richard Krajicek

On July 7, 1996, Dutch top sport experienced a historic moment. For the first time, a Dutchman won Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. Twenty-five years later, Jaap de Groot talks extensively for MASTERS with the now 49-year-old Richard Krajicek about the consequences of that phenomenal success and much more. “That cup is the only prize that is not in a box at home.”Text: Jaap de Groot | Online editor: Fleur de Jong
Image: John van Helvert

What does your life currently look like?

“Since corona, I have been at home a lot. Too much at home. And that is not easy for someone who loves to travel. That's why I exercise a lot. Mainly cycling, of course I also play tennis and play a bit of golf. The advantage of cycling and golf is that you keep your distance in accordance with the corona rules, but still see and talk to people. Moreover, cycling does not cause problems with my knees, for which I have had several operations. I really enjoy it. Then I set the alarm for five o'clock and drive to Limburg, get on your bike in early daylight, pedal until twelve o'clock and be back home in two hours.”   

Normally you are already busy organizing the ABN AMRO tennis tournament, of which you have been director for more than eighteen years.

"Beats. Normally this is the period in which I am working on players for the new edition. This starts a week after the tournament and continues throughout the year. That is not an issue at the moment and especially while cycling I think a lot about the plans for the coming year. But that is quite complex if you still have to communicate mainly via Zoom. I hope that by vaccinating we will at least have full stands again next year. As far as the field of players is concerned, I think I will be able to make decisions from August onwards. Time will then be running out, so action will have to be taken quickly and adequately. Fortunately, two years ago I signed the then relatively unknown Jannik Sinner for three tournaments, so he will definitely come.”

Due to corona, the last ABN AMRO tournament was completed without an audience. How did you experience that?

“First of all, I am ABN AMRO incredibly grateful that the bank has made it possible for this edition to go ahead. You also learn a lot under these circumstances. New things arise. The Center Court in particular looked really cool. We also received many compliments from the tennis players for this. You will of course take that with you into the future, when hopefully the public can enter again. That was the loudest blow yet. On the first qualifying day I went to the track to watch a race, but after that I couldn't bear it anymore. Watching live tennis without an audience, I don't like it. The only times I have ever been to Center Court have been during the awards ceremonies. As tournament director, I had to be there. For the rest, I followed the matches on a screen in a room somewhere in Ahoy. Audience and emotions, it's simply a must. The people make the difference.”

Do you still have a special status as the winner of Wimbledon after 25 years?

"Of course. All winners are made honorary members and receive an invitation every year, plus two Center Court tickets for each day. And one day I can go with my wife Daphne take a seat in the Royal Box. You must be neatly dressed, there will be lunch and later an English tea with scones and sandwiches, where you can easily consume 100.000 calories. So cool! And that comes back every year. Furthermore, I continue to be asked to participate in the Legends tournament, where I play doubles with another past winner. Unfortunately, this did not happen this year due to corona. What happens after the tournament is also very nice: as an honorary member you can bring guests to play on the grass courts of Wimbledon until September. That is really all-in. So change in the official changing rooms and have lunch in the clubhouse at the Royal Box. Everyone I invite thinks it is a fantastic experience. Because everything is so well organized, it is a pleasure to go to Wimbledon every year.”

Is Wimbledon different this year because of the anniversary?

“It is striking that I have now received an invitation for the final Royal Box received, while this normally happens before the quarter-finals. I now also have my place in the museum. Of course not as widely measured as multiple winners such as Björn Borg, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer, but still. There you can see the set that I wore during the final in 1996. I am more than satisfied with it. It was a beautiful moment that I cherish to this day. The cup is also the only prize that is not in a box at home. I owe a lot to it and that is why it has been given a nice place in my room.”

Can you tell us a little more about what Wimbledon has brought you?

“Just take my appointment as director of the ABN AMRO tournament. I mainly owe that to the then director Jos van der Vegt, who nominated me as his successor in 2004. It is the best job that could happen to me after my career. Also because I can continue to contribute something to tennis.”

MASTERS Magazine #46

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