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International Tennis Professional Lands Academy In Roanoke

Former Pro Player Johan Kriek

by Gene Marrano

Once he was tennis royalty, battling the likes of Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, winning fourteen singles titles, including the Australian Open leg of the Grand Slam twice. Now Johan Kriek, who has also been one of the top teachers in the world for many years, has moved his tennis academy to Roanoke after living in Florida for 34 years.

Kriek and his wife Daga (a former tennis star at Virginia Tech) arrived in Roanoke last month with their six month old baby from Sarasota, Florida and hit the ground running. They teach at Sun Tennis on Starkey Road in southwest Roanoke County; this summer Kriek will spend time on the outdoor courts at Hunting Hills Country Club, working with young players and club members. He also calls his wife “one of the best female coaches in the country.”

Youth is what Kriek is focusing on – he is still auditioning young tennis players in two groups, ages 8 and up, and will work with a select handful where he feels there may be some potential. “The sooner the better,” he says about playing tennis, with a solid background in the basics a must. Kriek says he is not looking for the next Pete Sampras or Maria Sharapova; instead he hopes to find kids “who want to strive for excellence.” Inspiring young players to “find their passion” is his goal.

As for the state of the game today, Kriek says other countries may have an edge in turning out tennis pros because of the relative lack of other sports that can lure a child prodigy from the game. “If you’re a jack of all [sports] and a master of none, I’m not sure how good that is,” says Kriek, who beat Steve Denton twice in back to back years to win his Australian Open titles. Now the head tennis coach at Texas A&M, the hard-serving Denton and Kriek remain friends. “He had just a huge serve,” says Kriek.

The men’s pro game today is “unbelievably exciting,” claims Kriek, although things on the women’s side are down a bit. He feels poor coaching has helped shorten the careers of oft-injured Venus and Serena Williams, at least at their peak.

Kriek started teaching at age 17, even before he turned pro as a player, after emigrating from South Africa to Austria. “I had no money, [so] I coached before my tennis career.” He didn’t come from the moneyed background many associate with the sport; his parents were farmers.

Kriek moved to the U.S. shortly after that with $230 in his wallet and knew he had to start winning as a pro. “I was extremely quick on the court,” he recalls. “When I was ‘on’ I could beat the best in the world – and I did.” Kriek has been in the tennis academy business now for about four years.

It hasn’t been unusual for tennis prodigies to make their way to Florida in the past, to academies run by Nick Bolleteri and others, even if they have to spend their last year or two of high school away from home.

Kriek, who calls tennis “the sport of a lifetime,” says there is no reason he can’t bring that type of academy here. “I don’t think there is any other person in the United States with my credentials – nobody.”  He hopes that local high school standouts find their way to him as well and is looking for players that desire to “strive for excellence.”  He won’t talk strategy much until they master the fundamentals.

Moving the Johan Kriek Tennis Academy to Roanoke from the populous west coast of Florida made perfect sense to a man who also won 8 doubles titles in his 24 years as a pro: “I’m a small town guy anyway,” said the South African native, an American citizen since 1982, “so this is a perfect fit for me [and] a fun challenge.”

He found out about the area through his brother George, who is the director of tennis at a country club in Southside. Kriek was helping out there last October and discovered that parents were bringing their children over from Roanoke for lessons. “That’s how the ball started to roll.”

Kriek wants to promote the sport in the Roanoke Valley and would like to start high-level amateur tournaments here. He notes that dedicated parents often have to take their children all over the region to find competitive tourneys – why not put Roanoke on the map? “I think there’s definitely some talent in Roanoke. Nobody [or any area] has a lock on it. Tennis talent can come from any small town or small city. I really hope to be here for a long time.”

See johankriektennis.com or call 941-914-6054 for more information.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Be careful. Kriek has gone through academies in Longboat Key, Sarasota, and Bradenton within 3 years. No one with his credentials? John Mac has 8 Grand Slams, Ivan Lendl has 8 and they have academies. Johan is a bit of a BSer, again, be careful.

  2. Two perfect examples in the comments above as to why tennis has been so stagnate in the Roanoke Valley for years! Appears as though credentials are in question here so tell us about yours Joe and Jim. Neither of you offer anything positive and I’m betting that your tennis credentials are pretty paltry next to Kriek’s (or anyone else for that matter). You offer no real insight or solutions as to what you would propose to promote the sport of tennis in the area and obviously neither of you have any real answers. Just the safety of being out of range and throwing rocks. If you don’t appreciate the fact that we now have someone like Johan Kriek in the area giving our young kids a terrific opportunity here’s a couple of suggestions for both of you. Put up or shut up. Either take a back seat and shut up or step forward and offer something positive. Maybe we’ll all get a chance to see who the real BSer’s are here!

  3. There’s always two side of truth. He and his wife couldn’t succeed on Florida since we have great tennis academies here with much better credentials. He did better here when he was with John Eagelton his friend. They had more good kids in academy. Then they split and everything started to deteriorate. They rise price for academy and didn’t have one accept rented courts. You cannot ask for $1200 a month on Florida if you don’t offer good service. Johan is a great person and good teacher but after his back surgery he couldn’t spent so much time on a court with kids. If you want ot run good tennis academy on FL and ask for $1200 a month you have to give something back and sweat on a court with kids. Also you must have more coaches and a good physical trainer on site. Wish them luck overthere. There will always be sheeps for…

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