April 14, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
When he was a wee lad, it wasn’t clear whether Kevin King was left- or right-handed, but over the years the Georgia Tech senior figured that out – more or less. No surprise that King has a 3.74 GPA, and has twice pulled a 4.0. He’s a bright guy.
Yet he and the Yellow Jackets are left with one last regular-season chance to solve issues of different sorts. A date at Wake Forest today will close the season, and the Jackets and King find themselves a wee bit aflutter in Winston-Salem.
Tech hasn’t won on the road all season after N.C. State rallied to beat the Jackets 4-3 Friday in Raleigh, and King – ranked as high as No. 9 in the nation a few weeks ago – has lost four straight matches.
Damn, this game can be hard to predict.
King was 27-5 before his funk, including 13-2 in spring action. He won 10 of 11 matches before this spell, falling only in Athens to the No. 10-ranked player in the land.
If you’ve been around him before, it’s easy to believe that not only will the pieces come back together but that he’s about to go on a run akin to the one that carried him and teammate Juan Spir to the NCAA Final Four last spring in doubles.
Tennis, after all, is not simply a part of King’s life. It’s an organ within him. His older sister, Lara, played the sport at St. Leo University (Fla.) and his parents have played for years (father, Bill, also played football at Villanova).
“We moved into a house with a tennis court when I was 2 [in Peachtree City] so I was always around it,” When I was 5, they opened a tennis center in town and I got started there with my current coach.”
Time to step in with some explanation.
That coach took a job in, Cary, N.C., (site of next week’s ACC Tournament) when King was about 14, and the future Jacket and his parents did not want to let Ferreira go. So, they didn’t. Kevin still speaks with Ferriera weekly, spends a week or so with him up in N.C. each summer.
He spent a lot more time around the long-time coach during his high school years.
“I wanted to go up there and train with him,” King said. “With that and all the travel for tournaments, it was too tough to go to a public or private school.”
So, it was time for home schooling.
That made the transition to Georgia Tech more cumbersome, if just a bit. Since he did not play high school tennis, King really had no experience playing on a tennis team.
With only today’s match against Wake Forest and then a postseason between him and a professional career, King’s not looking entirely forward to adjusting back the other direction to doing so much solo.
“I’ll miss the whole team aspect on and off the court. It’s great having a group of guys that you’re always around,” he said. “It took me a little time to get used to, especially since I was home schooled in high school, but I loved the guys when I came in and it was a great fit.”
King, whose professional career will begin this summer before he returns to Tech in the fall to graduate in December with a degree in Mechanical Engineering, is half of what may end up the most successful doubles team in Tech history.
He and Spir are clearly well connected (with a 21-4 record together this school year and 65-21 overall), and they may give doubles a try in tandem as pros. With their collective height and reach (Spir is 6-feet-4, King 6-2) and with King playing left-handed, they have a special yin & yang thing when working together. As King said, “we’re very comfortable with each other.”
Typically, that left-handed business also benefits King in singles, even though his mojo’s been wonky of late.
The lefty-righty thing was askew years ago, too. You could make the case that it still is far from standard. This guy plays tennis and writes left-handed, yet throws and plays guitar right-handed.
“The first lesson I took, I started right-handed because that’s how most of the people played, and then my coach had me play left-handed and they were similar, so he figured it would be good to play lefty,” King explained. “Definitely, it’s an advantage.
“Most guys are right handed, and they train with and play mostly against right handers. Being a lefty, you kind of have reverse spin on the ball and strategies aren’t used to playing against.”
As with so many college tennis players, there is a balance to be struck between the coach-away-from-school and the college coach.
Tech coach Kenny Thorne has been particularly important in helping develop the way King attacks each opponent. He wasn’t so much of a game planner before arriving at Tech. Under Thorne’s eye, he last year won the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional.
“I think I’ve matured a lot, especially since coming to school here. Kenny has been a great coach. He’s helped me a lot with some technical stuff, and mental stuff. I was able to gain an identity for my game, my game plan, my strengths and weaknesses and how to really benefit from my strengths.”
There’s more atypical about King than the side from which he plays. On a squad (and in a sport) where a great many players come not only from afar but from foreign countries, he’s local.
Yet he has gone on to epitomize the Tech student-athlete. His GPA and athletic achievements set him on a pedestal of sorts, although you’d never know by talking to King that he has accomplished so much. He’s kind of soft spoken. That’s a strange thing for a Pittsburgh Steelers fan – an heirloom he picked up from his father, Bill.
“I really love all sports,” he said. “I’m looking forward to [turning pro] . . . I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. But I’ll miss the team aspect.”
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