VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Champ Richard Krajicek On Sinner, Saudi Exhibitions And Running The Rotterdam Open - UBITENNIS
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VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Wimbledon Champ Richard Krajicek On Sinner, Saudi Exhibitions And Running The Rotterdam Open

Ubitennis speaks to the former Grand Slam champion about a variety of topics, including his current role as chief of the Rotterdam Open.



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Richard Krajicek Is a well known figure in the world of tennis.

As a player he became the first and so far only Dutchman to win the Wimbledon Championships after triumphing in 1996. He was also a three-time quarter-finalist at the US Open, semi-finalist at the 1992 Australian Open and semi-finalist at the 1993 French Open. He peaked at a ranking high of No.4 and ended his career with 17 ATP titles to his name. 

After retirement, he took control of the prestigious Rotterdam Open which is an ATP 500 event that gets underway next week. Before the start of this year’s tournament, Krajicek spoke to ubitennis about the current state of the sport. 

Full transcript

Ubaldo Scanagatta (US): Here we are with my friend and former 1996 Wimbledon champion Richard Krajicek. A former world number 4, winner of 17 ATP titles – Richard, it’s your 20th year as tournament director in Rotterdam.

You are one of the few with a positive record against Sampras, as you lead 6 to 4. Can this be considered the pinnacle of your career, apart from the Wimbledon title of course, and being the first Dutchman to win it in 1996?

Richard Krajicek (RK): It’s a nice statistic but that’s it. I would put winning Wimbledon and getting to No.4 in the world first, or winning Miami… for Sampras, yes it’s a nice achievement but I was lucky because he was bothered by my game. Let’s say if I had to choose between having a positive record against him or his career, I would choose the latter.

U.S: How difficult has it been to become tournament director in Rotterdam? Also, going back to statistics, you have beaten a top 10 player 44 times in your career. So how difficult is it to get on the other side and deal with sponsors, tickets, organisation?

R.K: With the players…(laughs) it was actually very easy for me because this tournament has already existed for 30 years, and there is a great team. If I had to do everything from scratch it would have been very difficult, if not impossible. Now I just focus on the things I already know how to do such as talking to you, to the media, to the players, the agents, going to ATP meetings where I already know many executives who used to be tennis players. They called me thinking I could be an asset also because of my legacy as a player.

U.S: The list of winners in Rotterdam is phenomenal: Federer has won three times, Becker.

R.K: Also Borg.

U.S: And now in more recent times Rublev, Medvedev and, this year, hopefully Sinner. What is your prediction for this year? And can you do that since you are the tournament director or do you have to be diplomatic?

R.K: Well, of course there’s a feeling that Sinner can win, he’s playing great tennis, last year he only lost in the final to Medvedev in a great battle and this year Medvedev isn’t participating anyway, he just beat him at the Australian Open. If he is physically fit, as I hope, let’s see. (Sinner) will already be here on Friday to test the courts and he will play the first match on Tuesday or Wednesday, so he will not show up directly on Monday last minute, he is totally prepared, he plays well, not many can beat him at the moment..nobody in the last tournament he played.

U.S: Yes, he won 3 of the last 4 matches against Djokovic, the last 4 against Medvedev, 5 in a row against Rublev. Plus he’s a really good guy, polite, honest. What is your impression, both as a tennis player and as a person?

R.K: I don’t know him very well, I met him years ago in Monte Carlo when he was very young and Piatti told me ‘this guy will be a champion’, and he was right. I know that he did an event in Turin city centre with Alcaraz and there was a huge crowd, last year it was almost for Alcaraz only. I think the two of them are the most popular youngsters at the moment. I also know his agent Lawrence Frankopan well, he is a great person and he only works with players who are equally so. As a player, well he is a great player. The only doubts might have been on a physical level, last year in Rotterdam he was tired for the final he played the week before but you could see that in the final against Medvedev his legs were gone. He improved a lot, I think it was clear with the victory in Vienna and the match in Davis Cup against Djokovic where he won with three match points against him. For me these two matches made it clear that he could win a slam. 

U.S: And technically? With his serve at the beginning he wasn’t hitting many aces, unlike you. You have always been a player with a great serve and difficult to break…I remember an epic match you lost to Ivanisevic in 1998 that ended 15/13 in the fifth…maybe for you it’s not a good memory though.

R.K: (laughs) I had no match point but I was ahead by a break in the fifth, and I saved a match point already in the third set on his serve. He made an ace, I thought it was over but the umpire called the net so he had to serve again. I broke him and then we continued. I needed to have a big serve to make up for the weakness of my other shots. I was good at the net but my forehand was not so good, neither was my mobility. I moved fairly well for my height, but I certainly wasn’t the fastest player on the court. For Sinner, on the other hand, having a great serve is an extra: he moves well and has very good, solid groundstrokes. However now the serve, when he needs it, is there. Even Djokovic, when he needs his serve, he has it, but he is not there hitting a hundred aces a game. You simply don’t need it when you have such solid groundstrokes.

Also the stress and strain on the shoulder is huge, so probably players who aren’t big servers have a longer career,  as you don’t have that pressure of having to serve an ace at every point.

U.S: Some players who have trained with him (Sinner) say that his ball is the heaviest of all and he can play 25 shots in a row with the same strength and depth, while Djokovic works the ball more on the corners.

R.K: I think they are two different players. I don’t play against them so I can’t say because I don’t hear the ball, but from what I see on TV I can say that the three biggest hitters are Alcaraz, Sinner and Rublev.

U.S: Rublev maybe has less variation, he doesn’t play many drop shots, he doesn’t go often to the net 

R.K: Yes he has a different game, but if we look only at the power I would say these three. For variety of the game, yeah, Sinner and even more, Alcaraz. This guy is amazing too, I remember the Indian Wells final against Medvedev where he played serve and volley as he was always behind the baseline and I thought “ah he can do that too”. Sinner has also improved a lot, and I think a lot of that is thanks to Cahill.

U.S: Who will be the player who can most challenge Sinner in Rotterdam next week? You probably know this, but Lleyton Hewitt was the last player capable of winning a slam and the tournament immediately afterwards.

R.K: I think Nadal once participated and lost in the final in 2009, but yeah, winning is not easy (laughs). Among the participants I would say Hurcacz, who has a great serve, and maybe those who can hold the exchange from the back, I don’t know physically how he will be, but also a De Minaur if the match gets longer.

U.S: But with De Minaur Sinner has won 6 times out of 6…

R.K: Yeah normally I would say so, but it depends on the physical condition. In general I’d say he can be more bothered by people who serve well like Safiullin,Hurkacz, and not many others. Yes maybe I would say Hurkacz because if he serves well he is dangerous.

U.S: Hurkacz sometimes has trouble closing matches.

R.K: Yes I think he lost in the fifth at the AO.

U.S: Yes and also to Djokovic at Wimbledon. Maybe you don’t remember, but we met the first time in Australia when in the second round you faced Cristiano Caratti.

R.K: It was the fourth round, I had a very good chance to play against Patrick McEnroe to go to the semis, it was my first slam.

U.S: I was there to watch and comment on Caratti, but I told you that you had a growth spurt of 15 or 17 cm in one summer, and because of that you couldn’t move at your best. Your forehand was still a bit weak, and Caratti went on to play the quarters, as you said, against M Enroe who very funnily said ‘well where’s the news? Becker, Lendl and Mc Enroe in the semis!”

R.K: Yes, I remember.

U.S: I wanted to ask you another question: there is going to be a big exhibition with 6/7 top players in Saudi Arabia, what would your reaction be if you were the tournament director in Basel or Vienna and Saudi Arabia organised this exhibition (during the week in which these tournaments are scheduled)?

R.K: I don’t think it’s possible, because obviously the players are free to do what they want with the exception of the 1000 and 500 tournaments: they can’t play an exhibition if there is one of these tournaments scheduled in that week, so I think it’s the week before or after.

U.S: Ah yes, I read the news very quickly.

R.K: There’s a lot of money in tennis, but as I said, players are free to do what they want, of course it’s not ideal if a tennis player is busy there the weekend before, but it’s something to take into account. Tennis players are not part of a team like in football or Formula 1, so in that respect they are freer.

U.S: Going back to Rotterdam, how is the situation regarding tickets? Is everything sold out? Will it be? The other question is about Dutch tennis – what is the current situation? Why do you think there are no big champions anymore?

R.K: For the pre-sale I have to say that this has been one of the best years so far, the final is almost sold out. One of the days for sure is, we have 10,000 tickets per day, it will be a great tournament. Last year there were 115,000 participants and this year we expect the same numbers. Only in 2018 when Federer could return number 1 and announced his participation, we sold 10,000 tickets in 12 hours and reached 22,000 participants, but that number will remain unmatched. Consider that for the Monday, Tuesday sessions there are usually 7,000 spectators with the stadium having capacity for 130,000. The tournament however is doing well, last year it was the 50th anniversary and the first edition post Covid, there was a lot of enthusiasm because people follow tennis but also wanted to get back to normal and watch live events. This year we expect the same, and to have players like Jannik, a slam champion, is great.

U.S: I was live with Telepiu’ in 1991 when Omar Camporese won 7/6 in the third against Ivan Lendl. It was an incredible match that I commented on with Roberto Lombardi, who unfortunately is no longer with us. But back to Dutch tennis, why are you struggling?

R.K: I think we have two very good players now, Griekspoor won two tournaments last year, he was number 29 and got close to the top 20, Botic van de Zandschulp also got close to the top 20 I think last year.

U.S: Yes, number 21 because he made the quarters at the US Open two years ago and this year he lost in the first round in Australia to Sinner.

R.K: Yes he had match points in Munich last year against Rune in the final, 4, 5 match points I think and then since then he’s been struggling a bit. I think he’s number 63 now, but I think they both have the potential for top 20. Holland is a small country, tennis-wise there are big countries where there are 8/10 top players, Italy also is having an incredible time, you are spoiled, you have Sinner now.

U.S: Finally, it took 40 years to be spoiled, I saw Panatta win Roland Garros in 76 and after that he never won a slam again.

R.K: Yes sometimes you just have to wait. We had Kiki Bertens who was top 5, with a semis in Paris. Now we have two promising youngsters, Rottgering who made semi in Australia and is only 16 years old and a 15 year old prodigy Boogaard who is playing very well on the junior circuit. But with Griekspoor and Van de Zandschulp, I think we probably have not slam winners but good chances for top 20, top 10, but let’s see what happens.

U.S: You have very good doubles players.

R.K: Yes we have always been strong in doubles, with Haarhuis/Eltingh who won many slams and were number 1 and now with Koolhof who is number 1 and also Rojer who I think was also number 1. We are very sociable people, we like to be together.

U.S: Does the name Melissa Johnson ring a bell?

R.K: Yes of course…I’ve never seen her dressed, that’s the only thing I can say. 

U.S: Neither have I (laughter) – I have to remember what happened: (Melissa Johnson) was the one who during the final between Krijcek and Washington invaded the court completely naked, and for some people that was the most exciting moment of the match as you dominated Washington three sets to zero without ever letting him get into the match and with the result never in doubt. Apparently she was working in a pub near Wimbledon, I don’t even know why I remember the name as I obviously never met her (laughs).  Thank you very much for the tournament, obviously the Italians will follow it very closely, also because on Thursday Feyenoord – Roma will be played for Europa League and so there will be a lot of journalists in Rotterdam. Do you have a favourite football team or do you not follow football?

R.K: No, I only follow the national team, and it’s hard to be a fan. 

U.S: I was a big Cruiff fan.

R.K: Yes then Van Basten and others, in South Africa at the World Cup we came very close to the title. 

U.S: Yeah the three players from AC Milan, Gullit Van Basten and Rijkhaard…they were very popular in Italy. 

R.K: We were European champions in ’88 with Van Basten who scored for me the most beautiful goal in the history of football…so yes I also have good memories, but we have to dig a lot into the past (laughs)

U.S: Good luck! I hope that in Rotterdam I will also be able to see former Dutch champions, I don’t know if they will come to watch the tournament? Paul Haarhuis the Davis Cup captain?

R.K: Yes he does. 

U.S: And Tom Okker?

R.K: I invite him every year, begging him as he was the winner of the first edition, but every year he is in South Africa at this time of year.


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Jannik Sinner (left) and Carlos Alcaraz (right) - Indian Wells 2024 (photo Twitter X @BNPPARIBASOPEN)

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