Richard Krajicek is the tournament director of ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam in Netherlands. Surya Raj caught up with the 1996 Wimbledon champion about his thoughts during the 47th edition of the tournament and about his experience of playing in India and with our Indian players.
Surya Raj was Richard Krajicek’s team manager during the “Champions Tennis League” exhibition tournament held across India in 2015.
The ABN AMRO World Tennis Tournament in Rotterdam is considered one of the best ATP 500 series tournaments in the calendar. How do you still keep the vibes going each and every year?
Thanks for the compliment. Very nice to hear. It’s important that we have a team that always wants to keep improving. We are basically 6-7 people that are getting together almost every month and try to think of how we can improve our tournament. We also go to other tournaments to get inspired sometimes like the World Tour Finals.
We listen to the people who come to our tournament but also to the press and the players. I think that’s important, it gives you the feeling – okay, we have a good tournament and we don’t have to change anything. However every year we are thinking about how we can become a better tournament. I believe that’s the reason people come to watch us and players also feel the same.
Anything that you would like to improve for next year?
We are building an extra conference center next to the stadium. So it’s going to be the biggest seminar hall plus another 30 rooms where we can have different things. We iterate on what can we do more for the fans. And maybe put the practice court in one of the new big rooms and so on. We don’t know yet. So there’s always room for improvement.
Do you still get goosebumps seeing any videos of your winning moment during 1996 Wimbledon finals?
No not goosebumps, but it gives me a smile. I don’t see that a lot but when I sometimes think about it, then it’s like well, yeah, that was very nice. I’m very happy with that. Life goes on but for me it’s a defining moment to win a Grand Slam.
I think one of the reasons probably I got this job and a lot of things in life are because of winning Wimbledon. So it’s a special moment and I won’t forget that.
You played in Chennai, back in the edition in 1997. You were already a Wimbledon champion then. What made you decide to play the Gold Flake open?
I liked India. I didn’t realize that it was so hot to be honest (laughs). As a professional tennis player, a lot of tournaments are always in the calendar. You always go to the same Grand Slams and Masters tournaments, so sometimes it’s nice to mix up a little bit here and there on the other tournaments. You don’t do everything totally different. At least not every year.
Usually every week is the same, so for me to have a little bit of change in the calendar was important. See new countries, meet new people, explore the world. In this case it was like, hey it’s India and it’s a very nice country, why not play there. I think I lost in the quarterfinals but It was perfect for me and I really enjoyed myself there.
Did you get to experience anything in the city or the country beyond tennis?
I didn’t go into the country but I walked around the city for sure. Like I said, I like India. I like Mumbai a lot and Delhi and of course Chennai. The Indian weather is very pleasant to walk around cities. It’s unbelievable that things look unorganized but it’s not, that’s what I like about it. Everybody walks, I like the way people are living a life there. It’s a good example.
In Holland everything is unbelievably organized and me too but sometimes it’s good to just relax, let it go a little bit and just live life day by day basically.
Indian players have won the title in Rotterdam twice in doubles (Vijay Amritraj and Leander Paes). Any particular Indian player you follow on tour?
I used to follow Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi the most during my career. It was very nice watching them play together. I was too young when Vijay Amritraj was playing but I remember a little bit.
All the Indian players are nice people on tour. Of course I’ve watched Sania Mirza play and she is a good player who made a good ranking on the tour.
How often do you play tennis as a recreation sport now and do you have any kilometres as a target while cycling?
Not so much. Maybe once a month sometimes I play two-three times in a row and then I don’t play for a month. It’s actually on and off.
I am cycling now. It’s better for my body so every day basically I’m cycling on the racing bike and it’s a good sport for me to stay in shape.
Holland is pretty flat. So I always go between 60 and 120 kilometres a day but when I go to France or the mountains then much less kilometres. In general you can say three to four hours not longer. I like to see something from the countryside also. It doesn’t hurt my body whereas with tennis, my knees still ache a little bit but cycling is the perfect recreational sport for me.
Moving on to your foundation. Every year you host a mega crowdfunding event nearby the Hague. Could you please tell me more about it?
About 23 years ago, I started the Krajicek Foundation. What we do is – kids in the city neighbourhoods; we give them a chance to play sports. We built playgrounds and have about 125 playgrounds built in Holland, where you can play tennis, football, basketball, etc. Those kids that come to the playgrounds, some of them are awarded with a scholarship to go to school and to become sports teachers themselves and work there later. This scholarship program did not exist from the beginning. it started 12 years ago and currently we have over 1500 scholarships which we give away.
Of course the important factor is money. Every year we have a fundraising event. It’s a gala dinner. We sell tables for people and have a nice evening with some entertainment along with the awareness of mission and vision of the foundation. We give an opportunity for the guests to auction different things like Formula One tickets and the people pay for it more than the box office but they know it’s for charity.
We have a few very good sponsors backing us. One of them is the people’s postcode lottery, which is present in England and also in Holland. They give us a lot of money so that we can help as many kids as possible.
You’ve written around like five books so far if I’m not wrong, and are you still writing any books at the moment? If so, like, when is it going to be released?
No more books. I wrote one autobiography and there was another book about professional sports.
I was about to write one more on how my life changed from Sports to going to business or being the tournament director but I didn’t write that unfortunately. Now I don’t feel like writing it anymore. So if there ever is another book, that’s the probably going to be the one.
You’ve been to India again with the Champions Tennis League as part of the Mumbai team. How was your experience and the camaraderie with the team?
Unbelievable and good fun. It was really good. Like I said, I love the country. We also love the people, they’re very friendly. I felt welcome and had a good time with my team Mumbai Tennis Masters: Santiago Giraldo, Flavia Pennetta and Sriram Balaji. We were a good team and also were the worst team. Nevertheless, we had the most fun in the team. We probably would have won the awards for it but unfortunately tennis is not measured by fun, it is measured by who wins the matches.
It was a great experience to especially start in Mumbai and then go to places I’d never been – Chandigarh, Raipur and Taj Mahal before I flew back to Rotterdam. I am really happy that I was invited. It’s a shame that it doesn’t exist anymore.
Sriram Balaji was part of your team in Mumbai. He had a great run a couple of years later and reached the Wimbledon 2nd round in doubles. Were you able to follow that run?
I think I saw him at the AELTC but didn’t have a chance to speak long. Their pair was nice. He is a really good player. A big serve, is aggressive and he has some good quality.
I’m happy that they made the second round in Wimbledon which was great for him.
Rohan Bopanna and Denis Shapovalov played until semis this year at ABN AMRO Rotterdam. Did you have any chance to catch the glimpse of their matches and your thoughts about the pair?
I only saw it on TV because I’m running around so much. To win the title,once you’re in the semis, it can be anybody winning since doubles is so close. You choose by the deciding points and play the crucial super tiebreaker. So it’s just how you play the big points.
Tennis wise they are good enough to win but sometimes doubles can be a little bit unlucky when you don’t win a few big points. I think they have a really good chance to win other tournament in the future. They both have big serves and they can play well with a left-right combination. So I think that makes them a strong team.