Remembering Karl Coombes……

Johan Kriek pencil sketh of historical photoIn 1991 I was post second elbow surgery and decided to play a few tournaments and see how my arm would do.

I asked my good friend and well known Aussie coach Karl Coombes if he would travel with me to a couple of tournaments in Europe. I had lost my ranking completely and had to qualify for Challengers like Berlin and Lyon etc.

Karl and I flew to Berlin to kick it off. The Berlin Wall had come down in 1989 and as Karl and I are both history history buffs, we had an amazing time in Berlin. Karl was amazing as he knew so many things about the place and the history of the communists etc. One day we decided to walk where the wall was and although it was basically gone, it was fascinating to walk “the line” where it once stood and see the terrible looking block buildings on the East German side vs the vibrant and prosperous West Berlin. We walked probably a couple of miles and came to the museum at Checkpoint Charlie. The ingenuity of the people trying to escape East Berlin to the West was incredible. Smuggling, tunnels, disguised in cars etc. One person even built a motorized hang glider from looking at pictures in a Popular Mechanic magazine, having never built or flown anything. He flew his glider to the West…..

Our second tournament was in Lyon France where I got to the quarters and lost to the Frenchman DeLaitre…. huge one handed backhand and a very strong kid. The funny episode was we played indoors at the time and in the tie breaker in the second set while he was serving for the match, as he tossed the ball and was about to hit the serve, all the lights went off! In the pitch dark nobody knew wether he hit the serve in or out.

It took an hour and a half for them to fix the lights, we warmed up for 5 minutes and the guys bombed an ace down the middle…. Game, set, match…

Lyon is a beautiful smaller city in France with lots of architecture and the food is out of this world… I am a bit of a foodie….

My ranking steadily climbed and later that summer on my comeback year I qualified for Wimbledon for the second time in my career 16 years apart. In my first round at Wimbledon I had to play the Spaniard Javier Sanchez and lost in 5 sets. The weather was atrocious that year as we started our match on Monday and finished it on Thursday! It would rain on and off for two weeks that year. Very frustrating British weather at times….

But what made me feel good is that at the beginning of 1991 my ranking was 1600 and in about 6 weeks I climbed back to 225. It was a big effort but unfortunately my elbow wouldn’t hold up. I was headed for a third surgery to clean it up again….

But traveling with my buddy Karl Coombes during that “comeback” summer was a huge plus in keeping me positive and focused and that is why I made such leaps in the rankings over 6 weeks. He was one of the funniest guys with the quickest wit and comebacks of anyone I knew. Karl passed away a few years ago in Naples Florida from ALS.
He is sorely missed by all….

But I know he is telling stories and jokes and the angels are rolling on the floor. RIP Karl. I will never forget you and what you did for me.