Krulevitz says tennis rolling in money, but lacking in personality

Bill Tanton

June 24, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Ah, Wimbledon. Baltimore's Steve Krulevitz knows it well.

Centre Court. The royal box. The strawberries. The tradition that makes Wimbledon the world's most prestigious tennis tournament.

Krulevitz knows what the Edbergs and the Samprases are going through this week as the Wimbledon fortnight swings into high gear. He has been there.

From 1973 to 1983 Krulevitz was on the pro tour. He played Wimbledon nine times, the U.S. Open 11 times.

But as the tennis world focuses on Wimbledon, Krulevitz does what he has done since leaving the tour. He's a teaching pro at the Green Spring Racquet Club and, these days, at his own tennis camp at Gilman School.

Krulevitz keeps up with the world tour through his role as coach of Peru's Jaime Yzaga, with whom he has worked since 1989.

Yzaga has ranked as high as No. 18. This year at the Italian Open, where the Peruvian lost to Karel Novacek, his mentor from Baltimore was introduced on ESPN.

Krulevitz also is working five days a week with Baltimorean Reed Cordish, a Princeton sophomore who early this month won the Baltimore City singles championship.

Yesterday, as his 61 campers took a break, the 42-year-old Krulevitz reflected on Wimbledon and tennis today and as they were when he competed against Jimmy Connors, Ilie Nastase and John McEnroe.

"The purses are out of control," Krulevitz said, a sentiment that is expressed about most pro sports today.

"These kids get $8,000 just to show up. If you win Wimbledon, it's $500,000. The runner-up gets $250,000. Today there are purses of $6-7 million.

"When I played, a major tournament had a $100,000 purse. The winner got $20,000. The top guys today wouldn't look at a $100,000 tournament."

Although tennis still enjoys great popularity -- this year's U.S. Open, for example, is sold out -- the huge purses have not led to a better product, Krulevitz says.

"The game lacks a personality," Steve says. "Players like Pete Sampras [Wimbledon's No. 1 seed] and Jim Courier [No. 3] have no pizazz.

"Stefan Edberg [No. 2] is the most professional guy out there -- he and Courier. The crowds like Edberg in Europe, where tennis is like baseball is here, but U.S. crowds don't relate to him.

"American crowds want to see more than the tennis. There's no McEnroe or Connors out there now to fire you up, the way Connors fired everybody up in the U.S. Open two years ago and the way McEnroe did when he went to the semifinals at Wimbledon last year."

Krulevitz's list of unexciting big names goes on. "People have never liked Ivan Lendl [No. 7]," he says. "On the tour the players call him Robocop.

"Boris Becker [No. 4] has lost it. He had a lot of success six or seven years ago, but he's lost it now. The game is so competitive that it's hard for a player to keep that edge.

"Look at Bjorn Borg. He was No. 1 in the world but he did the same thing every day for 10 years and he burned out.

"The public wants something different, too. That accounts for the popularity of Andre Agassi [No. 8]. He's different.

"Agassi won't win anything at Wimbledon. He's played a lot of exhibitions and made a lot of money but he hasn't played enough tournaments. He's not match-tough."

Krulevitz thinks Edberg will win the men's singles championship.

"Edberg," he says, "is eager. He's 27 years old -- the prime age for a tennis player. Courier is the dark-horse. I'd bet on him if I got real good odds.

"Steffi Graf [No. 1] is the overwhelming favorite among the women when she's healthy, but she has a bad foot. I think Gabriela Sabatini [No. 4] will win.

"Martina Navratilova [No. 2] has a shot to win it for the 10th time. She's a great competitor. On grass, Martina always has a shot."

Many tennis stars today are perceived as spoiled brats, but Krulevitz understands their behavior.

"It's the nature of the sport," he says. "You don't do much growing up on the tour no matter how long you stay on it. Tennis is a self-centered game. All you do is think about yourself.

"I went to Minnesota when I was 35 and played in a tournament. For the whole day all I thought about was myself -- my diet, my rest, practicing, getting a massage. It reminded me that you don't grow up until you leave the tour and start to worry about somebody besides yourself."

Steve now has a wife to worry about and a 5-year-old daughter, Stephanie, and every day he has to think about 61 fresh-faced campers.

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