Krajicek the infamous bottler finally finds his vessel

Richard Edmondson on the new champion's long trek from self-doubt to success
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The Independent Online
They used to say about Richard Krajicek that the only place you would find his name in the latter stages of a tournament was on a sick note. They used to. Krajicek has for long been the great underachiever, a man either injured or thinking about his next injury. The strength of his body was not matched by the grey stuff in his skull.

All that changed this fortnight in a single moment. Krajicek was in a third-round tie-breaker with Brett Steven, of New Zealand, having lost the previous set (the only one he dropped all tournament) when the hobgoblins began multiplying in his mind. Previous themes such as his recent mistakes and the iniquity of grass were revisited, the sort of self-pitying that formerly prefaced defeat.

But then Krajicek decided to try. He beat Steven followed by Michael Stich, Pete Sampras, Jason Stoltenberg and, yesterday, in the final, MaliVai Washington.

Those who know Krajicek talk of a shy, sensitive man, nothing like the personality you would imagine from his much-repeated quote of 1982. Then, with PR skills borrowed from Oliver Reed, he described 80 per cent of women players as "lazy, fat pigs". Despite this unwise observation, Krajicek has never been deserted by the public of his native Netherlands. The son of Czech immigrants does much to nurture the junior game in his homeland. Tennis is not purely a middle- class sport in the Netherlands, it stands second only to football in popularity. Krajicek's progress through the tournament has been followed in the media there with as much fervour as England afforded Tim Henman.

In the bad old days, Krajicek could be guaranteed to drop his head and stomp around in a permanent bow for at least part of a match, but yesterday his 6ft 5in frame was pylon straight throughout.

The body language of the loser came from Washington.

For the first time since 1975 and the year of Arthur Ashe's victory, 50 per cent of the playing personnel was black, but again it was not a ratio that could be applied to the crowd. In the United States, too, tennis is a game more associated with cucumber sandwiches (crusts removed) than bangers and mash, and the nets in America's inner cities tend to be drooping from a basketball hoop.

There are far more black American women on tour than men (Washington and Bryan Shelton are the only ones of note) but then there are fewer alternative sports for girls across the Pond to choose. Some will see Washington's deeds as pivotal in getting young black boys interested in tennis, but the Ashe experience suggests that would be a fallacy.

At times this fortnight, on television at least, Krajicek's matches have appeared to get in the way of a study of a blonde woman in the players' guests box. Daphne Deckers, Krajicek's 27-year-old girlfriend, is well-known in the Netherlands and now too over here, thanks to drooling BBC cameramen.

Henman and her old man should move aside - Daphne was the face of Wimbledon 96.

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