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Tennis.com Podcast with Kamau Murray: Johan Kriek's Commitment to the Global Game
The two-time Australian Open Champion explains how he defied the odds making it from South Africa, and why he's still dedicated to growing the sport in all areas of the world.
Published Jan 12, 2023
WATCH: Live to Give—Episode 1
You'll often hear Kamau Murray say that pro tennis is life changing for those who make it to the highest level of the sport. Players, coaches, and even the support staff can see their personal situations improved beyond their wildest dreams through the world of opportunity that exists on the tour. The road to get their might be longer and more arduous for some, which is why growing the global game of tennis is at the forefront for many individuals who took the scenic route to achieving their dreams.
Look no further than this week's guest on the Tennis.com Podcast, Johan Kriek, who rose to the top of the mountain from South Africa. He won two Australian Open titles, reached the top ten in the singles rankings, and became a mainstay in the game for over fifteen seasons.
But Kriek is not done with the sport, and as he explains on this week's episode, the tennis journey doesn't stop when your playing days are done.
Kriek grew up in South Africa, an area not known as a hotbed for tennis. Yet in the Open Era, some of the most impactful contributions to the game have been at the hands of his countrymates.
"I'm kind of proud that the South Africans have done a major job on tennis since the 60s," Kriek professed.
He cites players as well as tournament directors such as Craig Tiley and Owen Williams as his inspirations, and takes pride in making it as far as he did in the game.
"I come from a farming community of 500 people. We have two cement courts in that town, and that's how I learned to play tennis."
The South African's career reached some incredible highs, most notably those back-to-back major titles in Melbourne. But Kriek was no flash in the pan, putting in the hard yards en route to a top ten ranking and 14 career titles in a lengthy run on the ATP. And though he became a naturalized American citizen in 1982, his homeland never left his consciousness.
"Africa has been left in the dust for too many decades," Kriek bluntly stated. "I'm on a warpath to get tennis back in Africa and really, really make a difference."
Currently residing in Florida with his family, the major champion established the "Johan Kriek Tennis Academy" as a way to stay active in the development of young tennis players. It's not all rosy in the world of youth sports, which can bring out the best and, unfortunately, worst in parental behavior. But a core principal in this academy is the value of learning from a setback.
"I hate to see my kids hurt, but at the same time they have to know that losing is going to happen a lot. And in losing, you actually learn more than when you win a lot," Kriek reasoned.
More often than not it's the kid that's grinding, overcoming adversity, and willing to show up the next day and get better, that becomes successful in tennis. Kriek was one such example when he played, and he's the perfect road map for those following the same dream.
The first episode of the Tennis.com Podcast with Kamau Murray in 2023 does not disappoint. Kriek is as committed as anyone to improving the tennis landscape in all areas, from developing more events in regions of the world like South Africa, to personally developing young players through instruction at his academy.
And when you listen to the enthusiasm in his voice in this interview, it is easy to understand how much joy the game still brings him. Kriek is paying it forward, and the tennis world is much better off for it.