NEW YORK — So much promise. That has always been the rock around Aaron Krickstein’s neck. When he first showed those powerful ground strokes, when he turned pro at age 16, when he started losing and his ranking dropped like an anchor. “So much promise,” the people sighed. No wonder he used to speak with his head down in his chest. Have three words ever weighed so heavily? Do you remember 1983? It was here, at the U.S. Open, that Krickstein, then an amateur, showed the world that promise. He excited everyone, defeated Stefan Edberg and Vitas Gerulaitis, and decided he was ready for the big time. Or he and his father decided. Or he and his father and his coach decided. Whatever. It was a sharp turn off the highway. Exit adolescence; enter the professional world.
Who needs it? What’s the rush about growing up? Nothing, unless there’s money to be made, and glory to be had, and everyone figured there was some of each awaiting Krickstein.
No one figured what it would cost.
“Does this life get easier as you get older?” someone asked Krickstein, after he beat Paul Annacone in the second round of the U.S. Open Thursday in five sets.
“I don’t know,” Krickstein said. “I’m only 19 years old now, but I feel like I’ve been on this circuit forever. I’m missing out on a lot of things I could have done — like maybe go to college.
“I’ve lost the friends I used to have in Detroit. I’ve lost the friends I went to school with at Bollettieri’s (Tennis) Academy (in Florida). I go back home and it’s kind of tough. Sometimes I wish I could have more of a regular social life.”
But he had so much promise. And in the rush-’em-out world of pro tennis, that is as much a blessing as it is a curse. Older than his years
Krickstein, from Grosse Pointe Woods, still looks like something off a teen magazine cover — page- boy haircut, devilish grin. But the pro life has aged him quickly. He won a Grand Prix tournament, reached a top 10 ranking in 1984, then started to slip. Injuries. Letdown. A one-dimensional game — hit the ball hard from the baseline.
Other players caught on. The losses multiplied. The ranking dropped. It was a spiral that, by the time it was over, had Krickstein labeled as everything from a whiner to a has-been. At 18 years old.
So much promise.
“I realize now I was too young to stay in the top 10 ranking,” he said.
“It was too tough. I wasn’t mature enough. I played way too much. You play everywhere and you get burned out.”
“Did you ever feel like quitting?” he was asked.
“Yeah,” he said, without hesitation. “Sometimes I did.”
Krickstein was too young (14) to realize what was slipping away when he was signed on at Bollettieri’s Academy — where instructor Nick Bollettieri specializes in turning children into tennis machines. All he could see — like a lot of kids and their success-hungry parents — was reward and excitement. That he got. But what did he lose?
“You’ve had a reputation as being a sulker in defeat,” someone said Thursday.
“I was very moody,” he answered. “I wasn’t enjoying myself. There was a lot of pressure being so young on this circuit. I’ve been working with a sports psychologist to get over that.” There’s no place like home
Krickstein played well Thursday. He played maturely. He was down two sets to Annacone — known here as The Man Who Beat John McEnroe — but battled back to win the next three, the last one in a dramatic tie-breaker. On the final point, Krickstein, with his fist clenched, watched Annacone’s ball sail out as if watching the demons exorcised from his body.
“This win,” he said afterward, “will help me get my confidence back.”
So he hopes. Meanwhile, the roller coaster continues — the round-the-world trips, the rankings ride. Krickstein is still not old enough to order a drink in this state, but he is back to where he began his professional life, a three-year veteran still trying to get comfortable.
So much promise.
“When was the last time you felt like quitting?” he was asked.
“Actually, the last few weeks,” he said. “I’ve been kinda bored, not really been enjoying tennis. Thinking that I’d rather be doing other things.”
“What other things?”
“Well, like never going to Europe again. That’s for sure. Like maybe going to the beach, hanging out. Like, well, just going . . . home.”
It is good that Aaron Krickstein is winning. Good if he actually sees all that tennis promise finally bear fruit. But there is something sad about hearing a 19-year-old talk about his sports-psychologist, and how he misses friends, and a home.
We start too fast, we hunger too much. Success is fine. But Aaron Krickstein is left with youth a mere a taste in his mouth. And that is not enough.