When unheralded amateur Aaron Krickstein pulled a stunning upset over Vitas Gerulaitis in the third round of last year’s U.S. Open, the ball boys lined up solemnly to shake the hand of a new tennis sensation. The irony was that, at 16, Krickstein was younger than several of them.
“Until I beat Gerulaitis, I was kind of insecure,” says Krickstein. No more. Last month the mop-haired teenager from the affluent Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe Woods beat José-Luis Clerc to become the youngest-ever winner of the U.S. Pro Tennis Championship. Entering this week’s U.S. Open, Krickstein, now 17, is ranked ninth in the world.
Krickstein first wandered up to a net at age 6 to use up extra court time his pathologist father, Herb, had rented for his three older sisters, each a power on the juniors’ circuit. Within three years he was terrorizing his own age group, taking 44 straight matches and five consecutive national junior championships. After his showing at the Open (where it took then fifth-ranked Yannick Noah to stop him), Krickstein turned pro.
Some observers say that he lacks the killer instinct. “I don’t get mad at an opponent,” he admits. “I don’t psych myself.” His coach, Florida tennis Svengali Nick Bollettieri, puts it more colorfully: “Aaron was brought up in a Jewish background and babied for 16 years. Now his father wants me to make him Italian.” Whatever his ethnicity, Krickstein has earned $140,000 since he turned pro last October.
Krickstein, who dated rising women’s star Carling Bassett, 16, for a while and gets fan mail from girls in Europe and America, is still endearingly adolescent. His worst vice is Oreo-cookie ice cream, and he brings his dirty whites home to mom Evelyn between tournaments. A rabid Detroit baseball fan, he has his family play him the ninth innings of Tiger broadcasts over the phone when he is on the road. That could cost the Kricksteins if the Tigers make the World Series: In October, Aaron will be competing in the Seiko Open in Tokyo.