After spending a year and a half on the European satellite circuit, Kriek came to the U.S. in 1978 with a world ranking of 217. By year's end he had vaulted to No. 27. His third week here he met Tish in Bonita Beach, Fla., where she was watching a satellite tournament in which Kriek was playing. They went to a McDonald's one of their first times together, and Kriek, impoverished but gallant as always, insisted on paying. The next week he won a tournament and $1,500. He took half the money and bought Tish a necklace. "He always spent money on other people, even when he didn't have any," she says. They were married July 14, 1979.
Not surprisingly, in light of his spikiness on the court, the Krieks make their own way on the circuit. She calls her small group of friends "the un-clique." But being popular on the tour doesn't particularly interest Kriek, who thinks the life-styles of some of the pros are at least as bizarre as his own. "I can't believe the guys and drugs," he says. "I figure if you've got to stuff something up your nose, or put some pills in your stomach to get through the day, you're pretty bad off. You ought to take a gun and end it all."
So far Kriek has had no trouble getting through his days without the one thing some tennis observers think could be his: the world's No. 1 ranking.
Even Kriek recognizes that he has squandered his talent. Hank Jungle, a tennis coach in Fort Myers, Fla. who has worked with Kriek, often preaches to him on the subject. "A player who is No. 12 and who is happy, pretty soon he's going to be No. 20 and then No. 30," says Jungle. "The way to get ahead is to shoot for the top." Jungle, who began helping Kriek in mid-1980, also has given him specific advice. Most important, he adjusted Kriek's forehand, enabling him to hit the stroke with more top spin, and smoothed out his service motion.
Kriek has talent—not the sort given in dribs and drabs to the middle range of athletes, but the authentic stuff ladled out to a select few—and it has taken him to No. 12 almost in his spare time. As intense and contentious as he can be while playing, tennis is often far from his mind. Sometimes he goes for weeks without picking up a racket. He doesn't jog. He eats whatever is put before him.
In September 1981 Kriek and McEnroe were flying in a helicopter on their way to a tennis club outside of Nice, France, where they were to play an exhibition. The conversation was amiable. Suddenly, as they approached the club, a change came over McEnroe. Below, a crush of people were waiting for No. 1. Kriek could sense McEnroe changing from regular guy into superstar.
When the chopper touched down, McEnroe bounded out and was swept away by the crowd—Lindy had landed. Kriek wanted to shout, "Wait for me!" Instead, he just stood there, bewildered and ignored.
Kriek sometimes wonders if he might be better off staying where he is. He's already well off. Maybe it's not so important to be famous as well. "I look at some of the guys at the very top, and they always seem to be moping around," he says. "A lot goes into getting to be No. 1. In Naples, I'm happy with my life. You get to be No. 1, you have to share things with everybody. You don't have time to be yourself. The other thing is the work. I can't play tennis if I don't feel like it. I play best when I'm eager. If I'm not, I might as well not be out there. Maybe if I practiced more I could be No. 1, but would I be happy? Actually, I should put it this way: If I never become No. 1, I know I'll still be happy."