The sun is shining and U.S. 41, Florida's Tamiami Trail, is being eaten up in huge gulps by a yellow Porsche 930 Turbo. Johan Kriek is hitting 100 mph in third gear, his usual cruising speed, feeling good about life—the endorsements, the victories, the bridges burned, the latest umpire zapped. Kriek has fine, flowing hair and a classically chiseled profile. Perhaps a fluttering silk scarf would add a bit of panache. But no, that might overdo it. Spoil the effect.
Kriek, 24, has as good a grip on his life-style as he does on the steering wheel. On the tennis court he is part rabbit, part bull, making impossible gets and hitting spectacular shots. He is also part pugilist, intimidating and menacing. Off the court, he's just as dashing. A native of South Africa now living in Naples, Fla., Kriek has two Porsches (he has owned as many as four at the same time), a Jeep, a 1965 Corvette Sting Ray, an 18-foot Ski Nautique power boat, a 27-foot Chris-Craft Stinger and a wife, Tish, who could have walked out of the pages of Vogue. The Krieks live in a big house with great white pillars and a circular driveway. When strangers call at the front door and 22-year-old Tish answers, they ask, "Is your mother home?" From atop a flagpole in the front yard hangs a symbol of what has been responsible for all this opulence—a tennis shoe.
Kriek, who qualified for next week's Grand Prix Masters for the first time, is the 12th-ranked player in the world and the winner of the Australian Open, one of the four Grand Slam events, for the past two years. Given this evidence, one might suppose that he has come to terms with the sport. No way. He has a chip on his shoulder that would make a hunchback of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Kriek argues with officials, glowers at fans, cows ball boys. He slams balls in anger, tanks, boycotts awards ceremonies, antagonizes players and accumulates fines and suspensions as if they were going out of style. In 1982 he led the pro tour in fines, with $11,500, and twice was suspended for 21 days. In many respects, he makes John McEnroe, who was nicked for a mere $2,800 last year, and the Jimmy Connors of yesteryear look almost like choirboys.
In a second-round match against Victor Amaya at the U.S. Open last September, Kriek appealed a call to the umpire, Adrian Clark, but his complaint was ignored. On the changeover Kriek strode by the umpire's chair and shook it. Clark is a large, round man, and from his perch he couldn't see what was going on almost directly beneath him. What had happened, Clark wondered? An earthquake? Finally, the light dawning, Clark leaned over and called to Kriek, "That won't help you."
"Tennis," says Kriek, "gets in the way of having fun."
Kriek roars around the Everglades in his Jeep, going after baby wild hogs barehanded. He zips over the bays and inlets around Naples on water skis. And he disdains practice with the confidence of a man possessing supreme talent. Money is not among his worries. "I know I'm going to be a millionaire," he says. "I don't even think about it." His tournament earnings last year were about half a million dollars. He has a clothing deal with Ellesse, the Italian sportswear company. Rossignol puts out a racket with his autograph. His name is on Superga shoes. The money comes in handy. The Pirelli P7 tires on his Porsches cost $275 apiece. He has an insatiable appetite for adventure and excitement. "If there's a chance he can kill himself doing something, he wants to try," says Tish.
Kriek first made a name for himself in 1978, when he emerged from the muck and mire of the satellite circuit and reached the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open. That was only the third Grand Prix event of his career. Since then, there have been a lot of ups and a lot of downs. "The graph on Johan goes like this," says Joey Gratton, a friend of Kriek's in Naples. Gratton makes a gesture suggesting a mountain range. The peaks include the two Australian Opens, the U.S. Indoors, which Kriek won last February, and the WCT California Classic in August. In that tournament he defeated Roscoe Tanner 6-0, 4-6, 6-0, 6-4 in the final, and took home $100,000. But oh, the valleys. Five times in his first nine tournaments of 1982 Kriek lost in the first round. Trey Waltke, ranked No. 157, and Eddie Edwards, No. 154, both defeated him. Last summer at the Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, Kriek, who was the first seed and defending champion, lost to Nduka Odizor of Nigeria, the world's 77th-ranked player, in the second round, after leading 5-0 in the final set.
While winning Newport in '81, Kriek bashed a big hole in the locker-room wall with his racket. In '82 other players waited expectantly in the locker room, having stuck a large bull's-eye on the wall to give Kriek something to aim at. Following his loss to Odizor, Kriek walked in, his face white with anger. With every eye on him, he collected his rackets and left.
Players hardly ever beat Kriek; he'd rather beat himself. "I don't know the meaning of the word 'choke,' " he says. "I never play the percentages. I could get 80% of my first serves in, but everybody would return them. So I gun it, get a couple of aces and get in 35%."
Kriek's overhead and volley also are fierce, and he may be the fastest player on the tour. But he scatters spectators with hopeless shots and averages nearly five double faults a match. "He reminds me of a race-car driver," says fellow pro Peter Rennert, who was once his doubles partner. "He has that intense look about him. It's almost a macho thing. He loves to live dangerously."