As Belgian-Dutch driver Max Verstappen begins his pursuit of a second consecutive Formula 1 World Championship this weekend at the Bahrain Grand Prix, Dutch tennis player Tallon Griekspoor will be firmly in his corner.
The 25-year-old, who will be competing in next week’s Miami Open presented by Itau, greatly enjoys Formula 1. In December, when Verstappen clinched the world championship in Abu Dhabi, Griekspoor was a keen viewer.
“That was crazy,” Griekspoor recently told ATPTour.com. “That was probably one of the biggest achievements in sports in a really long time. Max is doing unbelievably for Dutch sport. We are a pretty small country. I think all the people in Holland have been into Formula 1 for quite a [while], it’s a popular sport, but then since Max is doing so well, since he got into it, it’s been crazy. It’s been all about Formula One.
“Him clinching the championship in that last round was absolutely crazy. I was not in Holland back then, I was in some hotel room jumping through my hotel room so excited. But yeah, that was really big, and he did an amazing job.”
At the time, Griekspoor was in the Czech Republic, where he admitted to having plenty of nervous moments during the race.
“I remember driving from the airport, bad connection, I was watching on the phone, trying on another phone to get a better connection, it was losing connection all the time. But then it was looking so bad because Lewis was just pretty much faster,” Griekspoor said. “Then the safety car… I was back in my hotel alone in my room. It was crazy, I was screaming, guys from my team [in] the room next to me were like ‘What are you doing? Are you okay?’”
Griekspoor grew up with motorsport in his family, although he did not participate in it too much, and even then just for fun. He has seen Verstappen a couple of times, but never formally met the racing champion.
The Dutchman is blossoming into a star himself, though. Last year, Griekspoor set the record for most ATP Challenger Tour titles in a season with eight. The 25-year-old did not fully grasp the magnitude of his achievements until the offseason.
“You just keep on going from one tournament to the other. Then at the beginning of the year you start in the ATPs and that’s probably the point where you realise, ‘I did well’,” Griekspoor said. “Now I’m playing ATPs every week, but you just keep on going.”
Griekspoor began 2021 at No. 153. Little more than 14 months later, he is on the verge of moving into the Top 50.
“Sometimes it’s good to realise how well you did, and also be proud of what you did. It’s not normal, not everybody does it, going that way so fast,” Griekspoor said. “There are so many good young guys, we all go so fast. It seems normal, but it’s not normal, that’s the thing. I’m enjoying it a lot.”
Like Verstappen, Griekspoor does not fear the big stage. As a 21-year-old, he stunned Stan Wawrinka in Rotterdam. He has also defeated Top 15 players Karen Khachanov and Aslan Karatsev at his home event.
“I had some good wins there, obviously beat some big names there,” said Griekspoor. “This year, Karatsev, crazy match. Coming back, like, I was nowhere, he was all over me. There was not much crowd this year [because of the Covid-19 pandemic], only like 1,250 people I think, but the years before I played in a pretty much sold-out arena, which was like 10,000 people. I love to play at home, I love to play in front of the crowds, I love to play on the big court. That for me is why I play tennis.”
Not only did Griekspoor play a lot of matches last year thanks to his success on the ATP Challenger Tour, but he also gained invaluable experience against some of the best players in the sport. The Dutchman lost against Alexander Zverev at Wimbledon and Novak Djokovic at the US Open.
“I enjoy playing those guys, I’m ready to fight with them. I’m willing to battle with them and, even though I’m losing, I’m still enjoying the battle,” Griekspoor said. “I’m trying to see where I can improve. Those guys are good, really good.”
A year ago, Griekspoor aimed to crack the Top 100 in the ATP Rankings. He eclipsed that mark, finishing 2021 at year-end No. 65. He does not want to put a number on his goals for 2022.
“I’m just looking to play week in, week out with those guys,” Griekspoor said. “Maybe I’m looking for my first ATP title somewhere. Why not? For me, the level in Challengers is also tough. It’s not like it’s a lot different, so maybe that’s a goal, but it’s not like if I don’t make it this year I’m done. I think I have many years to come.
“I’m feeling confident, I’m playing well, battling with the best guys in the world, so I’m looking forward to it.”