Scott Fowler

Q&A: Johan Kriek, Tim Wilkison hope to coach tennis champion

Former world-ranked Top 25 tennis players Johan Kriek, left, and Tim Wilkison are teaming up to teach serious young tennis players in Charlotte.
Former world-ranked Top 25 tennis players Johan Kriek, left, and Tim Wilkison are teaming up to teach serious young tennis players in Charlotte. ddeaton@charlotteobserver.com

Johan Kriek and Tim Wilkison – tennis players who each cracked the world’s Top 25 – have decided to combine their coaching talents in Charlotte.

Kriek, who reached a high of No. 7 in the world and won two Grand Slam tournaments, has run the Johan Kriek Tennis Academy out of Charlotte Indoor Tennis Club since 2012.

Wilkison, who once reached No. 23 in the world, has coached at various locations in the Charlotte area for the past 25 years. Both men are now in their mid-50s and have teamed up with a very lofty goal in mind -- to try to coach a Grand Slam champion.

Q. What will your partnership be about?

A. Wilkison: Johan and I both have been coaching players aspiring to get to pro level the last couple of years. We’ve kind of done that on our own, coaching both local players and international ones.

As we think about how we would like to finish our careers, we think it’s time to do something special. I’d like to see if we could develop a Grand Slam champion. Obviously, that’s very hard to do, but I think it will drive us in every thing we do.

Kriek: This is not easy, what we’re trying to do. But we’ve known each other since we were about 19 years old. We’ve played against each other on the tour – there’s a lot of water under the bridge. Here we are in the same city and still into tennis.

There are just not many guys out there of our caliber willing to do these things. There are a lot of guys who will sell their name to a project and let somebody else run the business. We are the business. We are the owners, and I think it believes a whole new level of excitement to tennis in Charlotte.

Q. Where will the players come from?

A. Kriek: All over the world. We’re going to be very selective. It’s not going to be any kid who has a lot of money and wants to be in our academy. I envision eventually having 20-40 kids that are highly-sought juniors here. We will start Sept. 1 and train at the Palisades, which Tim is a part-owner of, as well as at Charlotte Indoor where I also have my after-school tennis program. It has 45-50 kids now, and I started with one client.

Wilkison: There aren’t enough of these types of very high-end players in any one place, so we will have to bring them in from all over to build any kind of sizable program. But we do want players from Charlotte, too, and we’re actually talking to a couple of the very most talented ones.

Q. When you two competed on the men’s tour, Johan had a 5-0 head-to-head record against Tim – although Tim would later beat Johan on the senior tour. Does any one match stick out?

A. Wilkison: At Wimbledon one year, we played in the first round. I was hanging in there, but it was pretty obvious the match wasn’t going to go my way. But I was so happy to be at Wimbledon and I didn’t want it to end. It started getting late and dark, and I started playing very slowly.

Kriek: Meanwhile, I wasn’t even sitting down on the changeovers, I was like ‘C’mon! Hurry up!’

Wilkison: Finally, darkness fell, and we had to come back the next afternoon. I still lost in straight sets, but I did get an extra day out of it.

Q. Wimbledon begins again later this month. Who will win?

A. Kriek: I think it’s going to be Novak Djokovic. His loss to [Stan] Wawrinka in the French Open final is going to inspire him to even greater heights, and Wawrinka is such a feel player I’m not sure he can sustain that level again. On the women’s side, you would have to be drunk not to pick Serena Williams. As for someone who might surprise, I’d say Milos Raonic on the men’s side – his serve is so huge on grass – and Madison Keys for the women.

Wilkison: I’d go for Djokovic and Serena as well. But I also like Sloane Stephens’ chances for the women.

For more information on Kriek’s and Wilkison’s coaching venture, call 704-488-2314 or go to JohanKriekTennis.com.

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