Oct. 24, 2011
By Jon Cooper
King did that over the weekend and now he’s going to New York as champion of the USTA/ITA Southeast Regional. He sealed the deal Monday afternoon by topping Georgia’s Ignacio Taboada 7-6 (5), 6-4 in the event’s final held at the Dan Magill Tennis Complex on the University of Georgia campus.
“I definitely felt a lot of things in my game were clicking,” said the senior. “It was just really trusting my game and doing what I know I could do and just going after it. Not having any doubts.”
King, the tournament’s No. 6 seed, left no doubt that he was the superior player in the singles draw, dropping one set in four days of competition. The tournament victory clinched a spot in the National Indoor Tournament to be held Nov. 3-6 at the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, N.Y.
“He was due for a breakthrough tournament,” said Thorne. “He’s been playing well, he’s been practicing well. It was just a matter of consistently playing every point with his game style. He’s got a big game, he can come after people, he’s very consistent off the ground, he plays good defense as well. So when he puts it all together you get what you got this weekend.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” Thorne added. “He doesn’t get flustered too much. He sticks with his game and he can do really well coming up at the National Indoors.”
King’s not getting flustered keyed the victory Monday, as he avoided a key service break late in the first set. Facing three set points — trailing at 0-40 and 5-6 in games — King fought back to deuce, won the game, then the tiebreaker.
“I think that was a key point in the match,” he said. “I was able to dig out those three set points against me and get that tough hold going into a tiebreaker. That really gave me momentum in the tie-breaker and through the second set.”
King took the second set, 6-4, but it didn’t come easy.
“After a momentum swing, an opponent can definitely have a tendency to lose the first couple of games just thinking about that first set,” he said. “I have to give Ignacio credit. He did a good job of coming out strong in the second set and played tough throughout the whole set.”
King played tough throughout all six sets he played, only once being taken to a third set, after dropping the second set in his quarterfinal match against Florida’s Nassim Slilam, the tournament’s third seed. He took care of business in the third seed, then, later in the day, handled top seed Sadio Doumbia of Georgia, 6-0, 6-3.
Winning the tournament was sweet, especially, as Thorne pointed out, after his coming back from the number of injuries. Going three-for-three against Georgia in the process on its home court even sweeter.
“We always love to beat the Bulldogs, no doubt about that,” said Thorne, with a laugh. “Everybody in this program, that’s always a goal of ours. They’re tough. They’ve got a good team. They have quite a few good players. It was just nice for Kevin to come through and do what he can do and get the win I think that was most important for him and his development. We’re going to have fun following him up at the U.S. Open site.”
“It was definitely big any time you play against guys from Georgia, no matter where you are, but especially on their home court,” said King, who credited strength and conditioning coach Mike Bewley for his conditioning and admitted he was pumped by support from his teammates, family and friends — including a cousin, who attends UGA. “I’m pretty comfortable, I’ve played there a lot, also. So I was confident going into the matches. It felt good to get some victories over them.”
He should be comfortable and confident heading into matches at the National Indoors, where he and his usual doubles partner Juan Spir got to the semifinals a year ago (By the way, as if King’s singles heroics weren’t enough, he played doubles with junior Dusan Miljevic and the duo reached the quarterfinals.).
“That will definitely be an advantage competing there,” he said. “It’s a big stage, big facility. There won’t be any awe factor going there this time. Playing on the courts will help. I know what to expect when I go there. That will be a big advantage.”
“It’ll be good to be familiar with it because guys will be coming from all around the country, from different court surfaces, slower courts and everything. He’s already gotten a taste of it. I think that helps quite a bit,” said Thorne. “They’re really quick indoor courts at the U.S. Open and so him getting quite a few intense matches in doubles on them last year will definitely help him.”
King will look to follow in the shoes of past Yellow Jackets Guillermo Gomez, who made it three straight years (2008, ’09 and ’10), and, on the women’s side, Irina Falconi, Amanda McDowell, Kristi Miller and Kirsten Flower. Gomez and Falconi made the finals of the event in 2009.
“Hopefully our (Thorne’s and Women’s Head Coach Bryan Shelton’s) passion is working,” said Thorne. “Our passion is to develop players, trying to get the right type of person into Georgia Tech. It’s usually a pretty strong total person that has time to take care of his studies, which Kevin has done a phenomenal job of and work on their game. If they want to head out on the pro tour, our passion is to help them get there. Kevin is doing a great job. He’s had some setbacks in the past and he’s starting to break out. It’s going to be fun watching him.”