Krajicek fighting fit and back among lite

John Roberts on the Dutchman whose actions speak louder than indiscreet words
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This time last year, Richard Krajicek was nursing tendinitis in both knees and fretting to start his season. Today he is preparing to play in his home- town tournament in Rotterdam, having returned to the top 10 and banked the $395,000 (£255,000) he received for winning the Eurocard Open in Stuttgart on Sunday.

The big-serving Dutchman's success is particularly encouraging at a time when nine of the top 20 are injured, ill, or campaigning while not 100 per cent fit.

His victory against Michael Stich also continued an interesting trend at the $2.25m Stuttgart championships. As was the case with Stefan Edberg against Goran Ivanisevic last year, Krajicek reversed the result of a previous final here and defeated his opponent in the same number of sets by which he had lost.

Unfortunately, happy returns do not usually frequent the character of matches between powerful servers on fast surfaces, and the Krajicek-Stich affair was another example of a short-point shoot-out which just happened to stretch to five sets.

The overall standard of the final was poor, contrasting with some fine tennis in contests between players with less similar styles during the course of the week. The entertainment provided by Krajicek and Stich was largely the by-product of errors.

Krajicek was ideally placed to avenge his 1993 loss to Stich in straight sets. Leading the former Wimbledon champion by two sets to love, he contrived to blow three match points from 6-3 with two serves in hand in a third set tie-break, eventually recovering to win, 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3.

"Tennis is a game of chances," the 23-year-old Dutchman philosophised. "Sometimes you take them, sometimes you don't. From almost winning, it was looking bad for me. After I lost the third set, I told myself not to worry, because I was still two sets to one up. I just tried to relax a little after the emotion of the tie-break.

"The match against [Magnus] Larsson in the quarter-final, which I won after missing two match points in the second set, helped me believe in myself in the fifth set. From the beginning of the fifth set I closed everything else from my head. I put up a great fight in the fifth and can be happy about it.''

Krajicek did not notice, but one of the spectators was sporting a plastic pig's nose. This was not designed to remind the Dutchman of the porcine comment he made at Wimbledon in 1992 concerning the fitness of women players. It was simply a case of somebody getting in the mood early for yesterday's local carnival.

None the less, Krajicek remains better known for his indiscreet remark than for achievement on the court. To a large degree this is because of his misfortune with injuries.

He previously defeated Stich in five sets in the quarter-finals of the 1992 Australian Open, only to miss the semi-final match against Jim Courier after injuring his right shoulder playing doubles.

The shoulder, which powers serves timed at up to 134mph, has been a constant worry, though Krajicek reassured us last week, in word and deed, that he has no physical problems at the moment.

His eighth triumph on the ATP Tour was well timed, as the Germans are due to visit Utrecht for a Davis Cup tie against the Dutch at the end of next month.

Stich was unable to sustain the momentum of Saturday's startling 6-0, 6-3 win against his compatriot Boris Becker. "Richard played more agressively and served better than Boris, but I still should have won," he said. "If I had taken my chances in the first-set tie-break then it would have been a totally different match. In the fifth set I was just too intense and too tight.''

The German sports news agency, SID, came out with the mind-boggling suggestion that Becker's crushing defeat was inspired by his desire to hype up the rivalry with Stich. Perhaps when next they play Becker will try using a blindfold.