Having just played his first full year on the pro tour in 2013, world No. 475 Mitchell Krueger may be one of the only Americans to have earned Platinum Frequent Flyer Miles while still in his teens. The nineteen-year-old from Dallas, Texas, achieved especial international geographical renown when he hit up four continents in four months beginning with the US Open last August.
Any pro knows that travel is a huge part of the men’s game. And on the Futures and Challenger tours, some of the destinations might be a bit farther flung than for those players in the upper echelons of the sport. I caught up with Krueger on a chilly day in Plantation, Florida, where he was kind enough to discuss the ins and outs of his hectic tour schedule with me even though I interrupted his lunch.
In your tennis.com profile, you said that you have to like to travel when you’re on the pro tour. But give me your No. 1 Travel Nightmare Story.
MK: Getting from Traralgon, Australia to Korea, was a long haul. All by myself. It was like a train ride to Melbourne, then a long nine-hour flight to Hong Kong, a four-hour flight to Seoul and a three-hour bus to this tiny place in Korea. The guy I was traveling with, Bradley Klahn, was still in Australia in the finals, and our coach was with him. So I was off on my own.
How do you put your schedule together, and is there any part of you that goes, “OK, maybe less travel this time”?
MK: I’ll sit down with my coach and then some of the other players, someone like Bjorn [Fratangelo] who I travel with a lot and come up with similar tournaments we’re able to play.
But we didn’t really travel that much this year until after the Open. We went to the Netherlands for three weeks before the summer, but other than that it was all in the U.S. To break it up, it wouldn’t seem like that much, but it all came at one time, kind of one after the other, so it felt like a lot.
I know you guys like to watch a lot of sports, so what’s the weirdest place and time — outside of the U.S. — that you ever found yourself watching a U.S. sporting event?
MK: When the Mavericks won the NBA championship three years ago, I was in Germany. So the time difference wasn’t terrible.
While we were in Australia last October, there would be like Monday Night games on Tuesday afternoon. So we’d be sitting at lunch watching the Monday Night game.
They actually show in Australia almost every [American] football game the same that they do here, so it’s good for us. I guess they love football down there too.
Now about eating, which I’m stopping you from doing — are there challenges to maintaining a consistent diet on the road? And what kind of eater are you — are you picky or adventurous or…?
MK: I used to be picky, but obviously you can’t be too picky traveling. I think Korea was pretty hard, more because it was in a really small place, three hours from Seoul. And Korea has different cuisine. Nothing against Korean food, it wasn’t terrible, but… in Seoul it was nice because there were more restaurants, but in this tiny town there were very few options.
One night I went to a gas station and got Instant Noodles, and Pringles and stuff. Some of the guys in the tournament were doing that. But for the most part, it’s OK.
Do you have an overriding philosophy, or inspirational sports quote, that helps you when things are challenging on the court or on the road?
MK: I just know it’s a process. You’re not going to have good weeks every week. Some week’s you’ll win the tournament, some week’s you’ll lose first round. It happens to everyone. Just have to take it week by week and not get too down after a bad week or a bad match.
So what’s your travel schedule look like from here?
MK: This tournament, Maui, and then from Maui we go to Australia (for Burnie and West Lakes Challengers), and I think I might play a few Futures there as well right after. Then after that, I’ll come back to the U.S.
When asked the dreaded and dull question about targets or goals for the year, Krueger sounded philosophical. “If I put a number on it, I’m like #460 now, if I ended the year Top 200 I’d be happy. I guess that’s my goal. But anything up. As long as you’re moving up, that’s what’s important.”
With another busy travel schedule planned for after Plantation Futures, I’m guessing that Krueger will be experiencing a lot more upward movement in the very near future.