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Only a title will satisfy Sponger

Tarpon Springs senior Ben Kronk, the son of a former professional tennis player, is focused on the final reward.

By RODNEY PAGE

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 6, 2001


Ben Kronk doesn't remember much about his first three years on the Tarpon Springs tennis team. He knows his team advanced to regionals his freshman year, and he knows he advanced to the state tournament as a singles player the past two years.

But the rest is a little fuzzy. Perhaps it's because in Kronk's mind anything short of a state championship is unacceptable.

"The only thing I'm thinking about is the state tournament," Kronk said. "All I know about the last two seasons is that I didn't win the state championship. That's the only thing that matters."

It's that kind of competitive spirit that has made Kronk one of the area's best junior players, let alone the best high school player.

He comes by it naturally. Tennis is a Kronk family tradition.

Kronk's father, Paul, played on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Tour for 12 seasons.

He has won singles or doubles tournaments all over Europe and his native Australia. Kronk appeared in the 1976 U.S. Open doubles final.

Paul Kronk now owns the tennis center at Crescent Oaks in the East Lake area. He moved here from Australia when Ben was 7 years old, but it wasn't until his son was 11 that he started taking tennis seriously.

And even then, Paul Kronk wouldn't let his son play too much. He's seen firsthand the effects of starting a child too early.

"I think a lot of people get too gung ho on their kids," Paul Kronk said. "The thinking is the kid has to be great before he's even grown up. That stymies development. You've got to want to be a pro. You've got to need it. The money can't be the motivator.

"This summer Ben won three straight (junior) tournaments and I didn't let him play for a while. You need to take a break and get back to basics."

Despite the cautionary tales from his father about his own career -- the travel, the physical pounding, the cut-throat competition -- Ben Kronk decided last year that he'd like to pursue a career in professional tennis.

He's unsure whether he will play college tennis or try to play on a satellite pro tour after graduation. He's already taking college prep classes at St. Petersburg Junior College.

Kronk trains with his father even during the high school season.

"He knows more about tennis than anyone else I could get to train with," Ben Kronk said. "It's hard sometimes. There's days when you don't want to hear it, but your dad keeps on you. We butt heads every once in a while. But he knows the ropes. He knows what's best."

What they don't agree on is who's the better player.

"I can still take him," Paul Kronk said. "I've still got some game."

"We'll see about that," Ben Kronk said.

With an experienced role model and a dedication to win a state championship, Kronk said he is focused for his senior season. The regular season is merely a formality, he says. By April, he plans to have his "A' game.

"(High school) is not competitive at all," Ben Kronk said. "I usually play the match and then go play afterwards. The real competition usually only comes at the state tournament."

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