Stamp of a champion

Simon O'Hagan talks to Stan Franker, who brought success to Richard Krajicek
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The Independent Online
Thanks to Tim Henman, Britain can look back on Wimbledon with a large degree of satisfaction, but there might be more encouragement from the fact that a player from Holland - a nation whose tradition in the sport is not much stronger than Britain's - lifted the men's singles trophy.

Until Richard Krajicek came along, Dutch tennis began and ended with their two stars of the 1970s - Tom Okker and Betty Stove. But neither of them ever managed to do what Krajicek has just done and win a Grand Slam tournament. "It shows we must be doing something right," Stanley Franker, the technical director of the Dutch Tennis Federation, said last week.

In a country which, like Britain, needs to make the most of what talent it finds, the 50-year-old Franker, born in Surinam, can take a lot of the credit for the way he has revolutionised tennis coaching in Holland in the past 10 years, overseeing the development not just of Krajicek but of two other Dutchmen now ranked in the world's top 25 - Paul Haarhuis and Jan Siemerink.

Franker, a small-time professional in his playing days, came to the Dutch job via a five-year spell in Austria, where, among others, he had coached the young Thomas Muster. "The situation at the time in Holland was desperate," Franker said. "We had nobody."

Securing from the Dutch federation much more autonomy than any of his predecessors had enjoyed, Franker established a common set of coaching methods; until then each coach had been allowed to do his own thing. He got his ideas from two of the most influential coaches of all time - Nick Bollettieri and the Australian Harry Hopman - and demanded that his coaches stick to them.

"From Bollettieri I learnt that about 75 per cent of the court can be covered using the forehand. So the forehand became the most important thing we concentrated on. Hopman's great strength was coaching the volley, and it was always my belief that the player should aim to get to the net. So we worked a lot on the volley."

Krajicek, whose forehand against MaliVai Washington last Sunday was as devastating as his serve, is an obvious Franker product, but it needed Franker's skill in handling him as a wayward 16-year-old to ensure that his career went the right way.

"Richard wanted to join one of the federation's group of young players who got special coaching," Franker said. "But he was a smart kid and could have gone to university, and I suspected that maybe tennis was just an excuse for him to get out of school."

Forced to prove the seriousness of his intent, Krajicek was eventually allowed to join a group on a six-month trial basis. And when that finished he remained on trial for another six months. "Richard was known for not being a workaholic, you might say," Franker said. "He was always fine with me, but not with some of the other coaches. That's always been the problem with Richard - maintaining his attitude."

The strict Franker regime began to have an effect, however. "We made rules and everyone had to keep to them. You never made a promise you couldn't keep. If you said you were going to practise for two hours, you didn't practise for an hour and a half. You set goals and you made sure you achieved them, whether it was in training or working on technique. Richard really had no choice."

Once Krajicek and Siemerink emerged as the best of their generation, Franker got them going on the satellite and challenger circuits, which soon led to success on the ATP Tour. Franker then put them under the wing of a German-based Australian coach, Rohan Goetzke, whose coaching of the volley had impressed him, and in 1992 Krajicek and Goetzke went off on their own. In one sense, Franker's work was done. But nobody other than the player himself could take more pride in the moment when Krajicek won the biggest title of them all.

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