In his days as a tennis player, Steve Krulevitz enjoyed so many career highlights, it’s difficult to pick out one or two. Being in the top 100 on the men’s tour from 1974 to 1983; making it to the third round at Wimbledon and the French and Australian Opens; returning to Baltimore to start a tennis program that has thrived for 35 years.
But as a Jew, the 68-year-old Krulevitz — who will be inducted into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame on Nov. 7 — zeros in on two particular milestones. In 1977, he became the first professional athlete in any sport to compete in the Maccabiah Games in Tel Aviv, winning the gold medal. Then, he represented Israel in the Davis Cup, playing No. 1 for the team from 1978 to 1980.
The decision to make aliyah wasn’t an easy one for Krulevitz, who had to give up three weeks during the height of the American summer circuit. In his 2017 memoir “Lightning Strikes” (CreateSpace), he describes how he conducted some family research and found “when the Nazis put their Final Solution to the ‘Jewish Question’ into action, my grandfather’s entire family – mother, father, sisters, brother, aunts, uncles and cousins – got shipped to Auschwitz. Twenty-two members of the Krakow family never returned home.”
These thoughts went through his mind on his flight back from the Maccabiah Games. By the time Krulevitz arrived in New York and the Israel Tennis Association called him, “I had made my decision. I was ready to make aliyah and kick some ass.”
Krulewitz’s induction into the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame was announced this morning, Aug. 27, at a press conference at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Sports Legends Museum.
Raised in Park Heights, Krulevitz spent much of his early life “kicking ass” on tennis courts. Tutored by Maury Schwartzman, Krulevitz won seven straight boys’ 12-and-under finals around the country traveling with fellow standout (and future top 10 pro) Harold Solomon’s family, and became the youngest Maryland State Men’s champion at age 15.
Nicknamed “Lightning” for his speed, Krulevitz went on to Park School, where he was a four-time MSA singles champion, point guard on an undefeated basketball team, and also starred in soccer and lacrosse.
He was an All-American tennis player at UCLA, where his favorite memories were watching coaching legend John Wooden’s basketball practices and sharing jazz music with future four-time NBA champion Keith “Silk” Wilkes.
“We both loved John Coltrane,” Krulevitz recalls.
In 1973, Krulevitz turned pro at age 22. The legends he faced read like a Tennis Hall of Fame roster — Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Rod Laver and Arthur Ashe. On various pro levels, Krulevitz won 22 events but didn’t crack the legends, reaching a high ranking of 42.
His biggest victory had to be the D.C. International, where he met a volunteer named Ann, who has been his wife for 39 years. When he retired after 11 years on the tour, Krulevitz began coaching Peru’s Jaime Yzaga, who rose from No. 86 to No. 19 in one year, and then Israel’s Gilad Bloom. But with a daughter, Steph, at home, the luster of the tour was fading.
“I had to decide if I would rather be at her second birthday party or traveling, staying in another hotel that looks exactly like the one I stayed in the previous week,” Krulevitz recalled in his memoir. “I had to decide whether I’d rather eat dinner alone or with my wife and daughter.”
He chose family, returned to Baltimore and soon began the Krulevitz Tennis Program, which since 1984 has offered two 16-week indoor sessions for players of all ages from September through April and a 10-week outdoor camp June through August, enrolling 90 students per week.
His top priority is his players’ wellbeing, creating a fun atmosphere in which to learn.
“We were at Bare Hills, which is now Coppermine, for five years and we moved to Green Spring [Racquet Club] for 18 years,” says Krulevitz. “Then we were at Cross Keys for 10 years, and now we’re at Orchards.”
Krulevitz, who was became a bar mitzvah at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation (where his mother remains a member), sometimes slips Jewish tidbits into his sessions. For instance, one morning the snack was avatiach, which is Hebrew for watermelon.
“I believe in God,” Krulevitz says. “When you’re out there [on court] by yourself, you have to have faith.”
His summer camps have been located at places like Garrison Forest School, St. Paul’s School for Girls and then Gilman School — almost by accident.
“I was taking a camper home every day who lived near Gilman and noticed the courts were never in use,” he says. “I approached athletic director Sherm Bristow, and Gilman allowed me to use the courts.”
And when Gilman’s tennis coach retired a few years later, Krulevitz was hired, taking the Greyhounds to the last six Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference titles.
Krulevitz will become the first tennis inductee in the Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame since Pam Shriver in 1993. Shriver praised the induction of Krulevitz.
“As a young kid growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, the Colts and Orioles were great inspirations,” she says. “[But] I chose tennis, and Steve K. was the only touring professional from Baltimore. He showed me the pathway to the tour.”
The Maryland State Athletic Hall of Fame will induct Steve Krulevitz on Nov. 7 at Martin’s West. Doors open at 6 p.m. Other inductees will include soccer player Ali Andrzejewski, lacrosse player Rob Shek, baseball player Mark Teixeira, and basketball player Walt Williams. Broadcaster Tom Davis and football coach Jim Margraff will receive lifetime achievement awards.
For tickets or information about the 60th induction ceremony, visit mdsahof.com.
Chris Zang is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and copy editor for Jmore.