[ DIVISION II SPORTS ]
WHEN Jan Krejci was a young man graduating high school in Prague, he dreamt the same dreams Tim Henman and Andre Agassi had.
Krejci still chasing a Dream
Brigham Young-Hawaii's No. 1 player
has taken the long way to college and
hasn't ruled out a return to pro tennis
By Jerry Campany
"Almost every athlete thinks they have a chance to be the best," Krejci said about his decision to turn professional rather than go straight to college. "I didn't think I would go to school, I thought I would be playing tennis for a career. Everybody tells you that you will be good and you don't think for the future."
It turns out that Krejci is still playing tennis for a living, only now he earns time in the American college of his choice rather than money.
Krejci, 22, is the new No. 1 singles player at Brigham Young-Hawaii -- he is currently No. 2 in NCAA Division II -- and has lost just once as such after dabbling in the strange world of professional tennis. It wasn't the type of tennis celebrated on television though, as he toiled in the challenger events that up-and-comers use to prove to the world that they belong on the tennis tour.
After a year, it became obvious that he didn't belong -- yet.
His best performance in a challenger event came in India in 1998, where he fought his way through to the semifinals before losing. His performance was enough to keep his confidence flowing, but the $2,815 windfall was not enough for his slimming bankroll. Flying all over the world on your own dime competing in challengers is not enough. You have to win a whole lot more than you lose.
Even if you are in the top 500 in the world, as Krejci (No. 440) was.
"Those guys had much more experience and were so much faster," Krejci said. "I didn't make so much money; I was losing so much money (after expenses) that I had to quit because I had no sponsor."
So Krejci had to make a decision, whether to give up the dream of tennis stardom he shared with his father or postpone it.
He decided to postpone it, and has not looked back since realizing the value of an education.
"I have learned that it is very important to go study," Krejci said. "If I could, I'd do the same thing. Having something for backup is very important."
Krejci met BYUH coach David Porter at a challenger event in Palm Springs, Fla., and was given a standing offer to give collegiate tennis a try should he decide to.
But because of the rules of NCAA tennis at the time, he couldn't start at BYUH right away. He had to sit out a full season and pay back his earnings before assuming the top spot in the Seasiders' already stacked lineup. He used the time to practice with the team and start working toward his degree in International Business.
As serious as Krejci is about getting his degree, the thought of playing professionally still sits in the back of his mind, as he knew it would. He says he will not return to the professional game unless he is better prepared. And he is relying on Porter and the Seasiders coaching staff to take care of that end of things.
Because he is No. 2 in the nation, there are times when he could easily coast through a match and still earn a point for his team, but he doesn't.
"I don't think I have anything special," Krejci said. "But I have improved everything and try to be like the rest of my team, I have to fight to the last. We do not give up, that is what makes us good."
Except for two months of playing soccer, Krejci had always been an individual in an individual sport, putting himself on the line without anyone to help or anyone to blame. That is what endeared him to tennis in the first place, but he has since learned the value of playing for a team.
"This is more fun," Krejci said. "This team is really good support. I had support of my family before, but when you go to a tourney, you play by yourself, stay in the hotel by yourself. It can be lonely."
Should Krejci give pro tennis another try someday, it might be a little less lonely with four years -- and he hopes three NCAA championships -- of college to remember.
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