'Retirement' racket suits Krulevitz fine


For 10 years, Baltimore's Steve Krulevitz knew what it was like to feel the soft lawns of Wimbledon under his feet.

Now, he spends these two weeks in late June and early July running his tennis camp at the Gilman School, as he has for the past 11 years.

Krulevitz, 49, left the pro tour in 1984, but the memories of the most celebrated tennis event in the world are still fresh in his mind.

The most vivid image: driving to the courts of the All England Club and seeing the fans lined up on the side of the road for tickets - for more than a mile.

"People were sleeping out there all night to watch us play," said Krulevitz a week before Wimbledon, gazing out at his campers on the Gilman courts. "They're waiting out there in the line, and it's exciting. You see that and you get pumped up."

Krulevitz, whose best showing at Wimbledon was in 1976, when he lost to Vitas Gerulaitis in the third round in singles and advanced to the quarterfinals in doubles, joined the tour after graduating from UCLA in 1974. He played in 13 U.S. Opens (two as an amateur), nine Wimbledons, eight French Opens and four Australian Opens.

Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and Ilie Nastase were among his opponents. His highest world ranking - No. 42 - came in 1976.

Coming home

After leaving the tour in February 1984, Krulevitz returned to Baltimore, where he was a four-time Maryland Scholastic Association singles champion at the Park School, and began working as a teaching pro, running summer programs at various Baltimore area schools and directing clinics at Bare Hills Athletic and Tennis Club.

But he did not remain a stranger to the pro tour.

Peru's Jaime Yzaga, a talented 21-year-old with great hands and a penchant for taking the ball on the rise, was looking for a coach who was known as a hard worker.

Jerry Solomon, vice president of the now-defunct sports agency, Pro Serv, contacted Krulevitz in February 1989 to inquire about working with his young client. Krulevitz had been friendly with Solomon while on tour and told him not long before he retired to contact him if he ever heard of a player who needed a coach.

Krulevitz and Yzaga started working together the next month.

After about a year, Yzaga's world ranking soared from 70 to 18.

Yzaga, reached in his office in Lima, where he manages two fitness centers, said Krulevitz's intensity and devotion to strength and fitness impressed him immediately. The two often worked out together, with Krulevitz matching the younger athlete every step of the way.

"He's a fanatic about tennis," Yzaga said. "He usually worked as hard as I did."

They severed their relationship by mutual agreement in June 1993, having reached a point at which Krulevitz's advice, constantly repeated, was in danger of going unheard. Yzaga said he needed to hear a new voice.

Moving on

Three years later, American Vince Spadea enlisted Krulevitz's help. Krulevitz worked with him sporadically for about a year, even accompanying him to the 1996 U.S. Open, but their relationship fizzled rapidly, mainly because, Krulevitz said, he had problems dealing with Spadea's father, Vincent Sr.

Then, a little more than two years ago, Patrick Osuna, a native of Crofton, approached Krulevitz about training him in his bid to get on the tour.

Under Krulevitz's guidance, Osuna won the Mid-Atlantic region's wild-card challenge tournament in June 1999, earning himself a spot in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington that August. Osuna was flabbergasted by the scene that unfolded in the D.C. locker room.

"I couldn't believe how many people knew him and were coming up to him," Osuna said. "I mean, Todd [Martin], Andre [Agassi] - all these guys were coming up to him instead of him coming up to them. All the coaches and the other players knew him."

Krulevitz still works with Osuna about twice a week. However, Krulevitz has a wife of 19 years, Ann, and a 12-year-old daughter, Stephanie, at home, and says he has no interest in returning to the tour as a full-time coach - for now, at least.

That's probably the best plan, said Harold Solomon, a former top-five player from Washington who played with Krulevitz and their coach, Maury Schwartzman, on the courts of Druid Hill Park in their youth.

Tour players go through coaches like rackets these days, making coaching about as stable an occupation as being Anna Kournikova's boyfriend.

"I'm sure on the men's side he could get a job if he wanted to," said Solomon, who has coached Mary Joe Fernandez, Jim Courier and, most recently, Jennifer Capriati, "but I think he was smart.

"He established a base with his camp and his lessons, and then he supplemented it with stuff on the road every now and then. It's a much better way to do things. Coaching is a license to lose a license. You're out there coaching one second, and the next you're out on your butt."

Hitting tour as coach? That doesn't mean Krulevitz isn't still intrigued by the prospect of coaching on tour. He said he could easily find time in his schedule to coach another pro player part-time. And once Stephanie is in college, he said he may feel the urge to travel again full-time.

"I like what I'm doing now a lot - the lifestyle that I have now, the coaching and the clinics and the kids and everybody that I work with," said Krulevitz, who runs his indoor clinics at Greenspring Racquet Club. "But maybe I'm not going to like it so much in 10 years. Maybe I'll want to get back on the road."

That Krulevitz is content with his life now is not hard to see. He radiates energy. He works out five days a week and is in excellent shape. He smiles the widest, laughs the hardest and yells the loudest at his camp. His passion for the game hasn't diminished a bit through the years.

"If I was a young kid with some promise, I would want someone with his enthusiasm and knowledge," said Pam Shriver, the former top-five player from Baltimore.

Krulevitz still has plenty of both.

"I told Stephanie the kind of attitude that I used to have when I was a player is that there's no place in the world that I would rather be than right here, right now," Krulevitz said. "I used to say that on the court: 'I've got nowhere to go. I'd rather be here than anywhere.'"

And right now, here on the courts at Gilman, is where Krulevitz wants to be.

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