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King Me

May 29, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

There may be no such thing as normal, but when Kevin King and Juan Spir bowed out of the NCAA doubles tournament Friday, it sure wasn’t what anybody expected.

They made it to the national semifinals last spring and they were No. 2 in the ITA rankings heading into the tournament so anything short of a repeat of last year’s success would raise eyebrows. When they lost in the second round, that’s what happened.

The future is attractive for both; King, whose eligibility is up, will turn pro. Spir, who just finished his junior year, has a shot at the Georgia Tech record for career doubles wins. He’ll have to catch King. His 87 career doubles wins are a school best, topping the 82 won by Sergio Aguirre from 1997-2001. Spir has 75, winning 71 times with King.

So when they were finished, at the University of Georgia’s Dan Magill Tennis Complex of all places, it was, well, abnormal.

“We didn’t want to watch any more tennis; we got out of there,” said Tech men’s coach Kenny Thorne. “I went out and ate with them, and . . . it was a little surreal. Any time you have seniors leaving . . . it’s tough.”

This, however, was not a melodramatic farewell. Really, King’s not going anywhere. He’s from Peachtree City, just south of Atlanta, and, “the fortunate thing is that Kevin is going to be a professional tennis player and train out of Georgia Tech so it’s more like, ‘See you next week,'” Thorne said.

Chances are King and Spir are not finished playing together. King visited Spir and his family in Colombia last summer, and they’re looking at possible entry as a wildcard into the BB&T Atlanta Open July 14-22 at Atlantic Station.

NCAA rules prohibit Spir from earning any money other that what would cover his expenses, although playing right next to campus there shouldn’t be a whole lot.

There’s plenty to look forward to for both players.

Frankly, there weren’t a lot of wistful, weepy moments after King and Spir bowed out with a 22-5 record. It didn’t help that they didn’t play a match together for more than a month after King missed the ACC tournament with a finicky back, and then the duo didn’t get to play in the NCAA team tournament as the Yellow Jackets didn’t qualify.

But enough of the past.

“He was a team captain for two years in a row, and has just done so many incredible things for our program on and off the court, in the classroom,” the coach said. “You grow like a family, and then four years later you’re setting them out on their own.

We’ve already become family, so it wasn’t like a whole week where we kind of talked about this being the last tournament and looking back on a lot of things. We’ve talked a lot about the future, we really have. We’ve done that all year long, and this is kind of just setting you up, springboarding you to the pro tour.”

King was a fantastic student at Tech, and he’s astute at the game of tennis. He’ll play singles and doubles, and when he’s not playing with Spir he’s got a pretty solid potential partner to stand in his stead.

Ohio State’s Chase Buchanan is interested in tag-teaming with King on the pro circuit. Buchanan, who just finished his eligibility, on Monday teamed with Buckeyes sophomore Blaz Rola to win the NCAA doubles championship. So he knows what he’s doing.

He knows what King does as well.

Buchanan knocked King out of the NCAA singles bracket last week, and last year he watched king and Spir beat top-ranked Boris Conkic and John-Patrick Smith of Tennessee and two other top 10 seeds in the NCAA doubles tournament.

“Unfortunately, he had a few injuries, but he’s going to do great things,” Thorne said. “Just incredible sustainability day in and day out, just doing what your coaches tell you, doing what your teachers tell you, and no complaining, no excuses. That’s who he is. He’s a doer.

He’s not going to be a guy who takes a loss and doesn’t get his practice in. He’s going to be a pro every step of the way. They wanted to bring a national title to the program, and they had a great chance, but no hanging their heads. Let’s go to what’s next. There’s a chance they might play together. He’s going to get some great partners.”


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