Tennis: Krajicek shows respect to giant-killer

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The Independent Online
WHEN A blaring tape recording of the Marseillaise greeted Sebastien Grosjean's arrival at Le Bouchon du Grove restaurant in Miami, it was not only because he comes from the city synonymous with the anthem. The former junior world No 1 had become the first Frenchman to reach the singles final at the Lipton Championships in the 15 years of the tournament, and the chef was hoarse from cheering him.

Richard Krajicek was also happy with life, and not only because he was the Lipton's first Dutch singles finalist. The 1996 Wimbledon champion celebrated his daughter Emma's first birthday yesterday. "We got a cake with a sort of whipped cream on it, and just let her destroy it, all over her face, while we took pictures," he said.

It would not surprise even Grosjean's hearty compatriots at Le Bouchor if Krajicek does something similar to their hero in today's final, which is why they have marked every step of his progress through the draw as a triumph. Quite right, too. The 20-year-old has been the tournament's giant-killer, all 5ft 9in of him, eliminating Gustavo Kuerton, the 1997 French Open champion, ending Carlos Moya's sojourn as the world No 1 after saving three match points, and raising his own ranking from No 74 to No 45 en route to his first ATP Tour final. He has won 14 of his last 15 matches.

Grosjean has painful memories of his only previous match against Krajicek, early last year in the second round of an event in Marseilles, when a twisted right ankle forced him to retire with the Dutchman leading 6-3, 5-5. The Frenchman went on to reach the last 16 at Wimbledon, but he still takes the precaution of wearing a support for the ankle.

"It will be more difficult for me to play against him in a final than an early round," Grosjean said. "But I don't have to think it's a final, so I am going to play without pressure."

Krajicek defeated Britain's Greg Rusedski in the final of the Guardian Direct Cup at Battersea Park last month and eliminated Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals here immediately after the American had regained the No 1 ranking. Winning the final would guarantee Krajicek a place at No 4, a career high, but he is not taking the speedy, determined Grosjean lightly. "I won't be concerned with over-confidence," Krajicek said. "I know what he's capable of and I have to watch out.

"Once somebody is in the final, then you have to show your opponent respect. It's a very stupid way to lose a match if you're over-confident. It can happen maybe in the first round, but not in a final, and especially in such a big event as this. I've been playing tennis too long for that to happen."

Virtually unplayable in his last few matches, Krajicek recalled that he had the feeling that he could not hit a ball in the court when he arrived to practise for the tournament. "It's a nice feeling that I didn't show my best tennis in the first rounds. You can play great in the first round, but sometimes you don't have to. I slowly built my game up, and the match against Pete was part of it. I really feel at the moment that my game is going up, together with my confidence."

Grosjean will pit his baseline slugging against Krajicek's mighty serving and crisp volleying. There again, Krajicek is pleased with the way he has adapted his game, particularly in defeating Sweden's Thomas Enqvist in the semi-finals. "I'm not rushing from the baseline," he said. "I think that's a sign when I'm confident. If I don't feel confident, I rely on my strengths, which is serve and volley, and when I'm at the baseline, I'm rushing a little bit to get the point over. Now I'm beating a guy like Thomas on his strength, which is baseline rallies."

It was suggested that it might be a good time to put a wager on Krajicek for Wimbledon. "Things can turn around pretty quickly," he said. "The odds are better now, but there are a lot of weeks to go. Maybe two weeks before Wimbledon you can have a little bet. But there are no guarantees."