- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
There Kriek wrote a letter to Tim Gullikson, his doubles partner in Philly. Recalls Gullikson, "The letter said, 'This is a lousy game and a lousy way to make a living, and I can't do it anymore. You're going to be mad and I'm sorry, but it's something I have to do.' Then he slipped it under my door early in the morning. The next day I saw him checking out of the hotel."
Can this be the same fellow who is courteous, thoughtful-and mannerly away from tennis? Who is loved by his friends and respected by his neighbors? Who at a testimonial dinner given for him last April by the Naples Bath and Tennis Club delivered a moving 90-minute speech? One of Kriek's favorite pastimes is tending the flowers and shrubs around his home. He sweeps his driveway every day and cares for a yard full of stray cats, several of which once set up housekeeping behind the Kriek clothes dryer. As for full-time pets, he and Tish have two dogs, Barfy, a Lhasa apso, and TP, a Yorkshire terrier, and a loquacious parrot named Kato.
Kriek enjoys leading a secluded life in Naples. The ATP doesn't even know his phone number; for a time, the one on file there was answered by a voice that said, "Naples Solar Control." Kriek changes his number frequently, and his neighbors understand because in Naples privacy is cherished. The town is a haven for millionaires, but it has its share of rednecks as well. The two breeds co-exist, swollen checkbooks alongside swollen cheeks, with neither side infringing on the other's territory.
One afternoon last spring Kriek had to visit his bank. He needed $25,000 to buy a boat, and the bank didn't want to give him the money over the phone.
"Johan, can you step in here a minute," a bank official called soothingly as Kriek, wearing running shorts, a faded T shirt and sandals, walked by his office. "I told them to give you whatever you want," he said. "We'll get it done today." Five minutes later Kriek was strolling out the door with his check for $25,000.
One Kriek trait that sometimes causes difficulty is his bluntness. When the man who was selling him the new boat asked what he had as a trade-in, Kriek replied, referring to the 21-foot Glastron CV-23 that he owned, "A submarine. The bloody thing has been sunk twice."
Tish was not amused when she heard what her husband had said. "Oh Yo!" she complained. "Now he won't take the boat. I wish you wouldn't be so honest."
Kriek grew up on a sugar plantation in the remote Afrikaner farming community of Pongola, where Saturday night entertainment consisted of a movie brought in by truck. His father, George, who had been one of the best rugby players in South Africa, was paralyzed in a farming accident in 1965 but continues to run the plantation. Kriek was an accomplished athlete as a kid, playing rugby and running sprints. But he liked tennis best, even though the South African Tennis Federation did not pay his way to junior tournaments. In Kriek's view, he was passed over, at least in part, because he was an Afrikaner, of Dutch descent. Much of the federation and most of the country's top players were of English extraction.
With or without his country's blessing, Kriek was determined to pursue tennis. "He always knew he could be a great player," says Dave Creighton, a teaching pro who played doubles with Kriek when they were teen-agers. "People used to laugh at him, but he was sure. He was never scared of losing. I remember in one of his first pro tournaments, in England, he lost 6-1, 6-1 to Roscoe Tanner. He came back and said, 'I can beat him.' We thought he was crazy." Says Kriek, "Everybody else was losing to Tanner 6-0, 6-0. At least I got some games."
In 1976, at age 17, Kriek left South Africa for Austria, where he worked on his game and supported himself by teaching tennis. He was beginning to burn his bridges. Last summer he became a U.S. citizen. This winter he returned to South Africa for a series of exhibition matches as well as the South African Open, and was severely criticized by the media for having left his native country.