July 23, 2013
By Matt Winkeljohn
As homecomings go, Kevin King’s return to Atlanta is going swimmingly even though the former Georgia Tech tennis player nearly had to go swimming Monday. On his way to winning a third qualifying match in the BB&T Atlanta Open it rained. Hard.
That was more than OK because King earned his first-ever berth into an ATP main draw with a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over long-time pro Robby Ginepri at Atlantic Station. In the process, King guaranteed almost tripling his earnings for the year.
Nevermind the 90-minute monsoon interruption early in the second set of his match; shoot, it may have helped. After the match King changed tops and wore a “Georgia Tech Strength” t-shirt with a barbell pictured on the front.
That was appropriate because when everything dried out, the Dec. 2012 graduate muscled his way past Ginepri with an especially effective first serve and by moving his opponent around the court. King had more confidence when play resumed.
“I would say so,” he said. “Going to the second set, I was trying to make some adjustments. After the rain delay, I was able to execute and play better . . . It’s pretty special to be able to do it here.”
Pro careers often start slowly, and King’s pace has been deliberate in his first full pro season. He’s earned a modest $2,538 in singles play this year, but by punching his ticket into an ATP event he’s guaranteed a paycheck this week of at least $5,600.
King was 0-2 in ATP qualifiers previously with all three attempts coming in the Atlanta Open. He’s usually playing in ITF Futures events or on the ATP Challenger Tour – in the minor leagues.
Atlanta, though, is different, and worth the longshot route of qualifiers – where 32 candidates were whittled down to four who Monday earned sports into the main draw to compete with players like Jon Isner, Mardy Fish and Lleyton Hewitt.
Atlanta is special, even moreso because tournament officials gave King and long-time Tech doubles partner Juan Spir a wildcard entry into the doubles main draw. They are to debut Tuesday or Wednesday after winning a Tech-record 66 doubles matches together for the Yellow Jackets from fall of 2009 to spring of ’12.
Most of all, King’s circle of friends here – including Tech coach Kenny Thorne – is huge. “I actually really enjoy it,” the Peachtree City native said. “You hear the crowd when they’re pulling for you. It’s a little extra motivation.”
King may have been partially fibbing there, or perhaps he did not fully sense the effect of his surroundings.
It’s possible that nobody knows better than Sean Ferreira. He has coached King since he was a 5-year old lad south of Atlanta. Even after Ferriera moved to Cary, N.C., in 2005 to open the Cary Tennis Park (site of the ACC Championships every spring), King kept trekking to work with him.
For a change, Ferriera this week has traveled to see King. His assessment was spot on.
“My opinion is he came out and was a little amped up and wanted to play well and he was pressing a little,” said Ferreira, who is visiting King at a tournament for just the second time.
“Right before it started raining, I think he settled down and started making Robby work a little bit, tried to make it a physical match. After the rain delay, he was able to put a little pressure on.”
Ginepri appeared to tire in the middle of the third set, where neither player broke serve until the final game of the match. The former Wheeler High star was ranked as high as No. 15 in the world at the end of the 2005 season just a few months after he lost a five-setter to Andre Agassi in the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
He’s struggled in recent years on the way to a realtime ranking of 234. King is No. 790.
Several times late, Ginepri – who lives in Acworth – bent over between points, and he called for a trainer prior to the final game in taking a medical timeout. A stethoscope was deployed, and Ginepri’s pulse was taken. He was unavailable after the match to explain what had happened.
Clearly, King wore him out.
Although neither player broke serve up to that final game of the third set, King’s service game helped him win several games easily. He won all four points on serve to go up 5-4, and Ginepri didn’t come close to several third-set serves; he didn’t even try for a few. King’s first serve was tickling 125 and 126 mph even at the end of the two-hour match.
Ginepri held serve largely through will, and survived several deuces.
Finally, after trailing 30-15 against serve, King won four straight points to win the match as a Ginepri volley went long.
“I came out and tried to play a certain way, and he played well to start the match,” King said. “I was able to make some adjustments, and tweak my game.”
He brought an ITF Futures record of 9-6 into the qualifiers, and lost his only ATP Challenger Tour outing.
He’s played better recently. In his last tournament, near Chicago a few weeks ago, he won two matches on clay to find a spot in the main draw (of a non-ATP event). There, he lost 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 4-6 to former Virginia superstar Jarmere Jenkins.
That earned King $520. His Atlanta payday of at least $5,600 will grow today if he wins against Yen-Hsun Lu at 3 p.m.
Regardless of whom he plays, Thorne and Ferreira believe King can stay on course. “He graduated with highest honors, a 3.88 in mechanical engineering,” the Tech coach said. “He knows how not to get excited or rattled.”
“I think he’s improving his ground strokes, and being able to hang in there with big hitters and sustain points,” the coach said. “I’ve always thought he’s had the weapons to play. It’s just putting it together and doing it consistently.
“I think Kenny really helped him – because of Kenny’s experience on Tour – see the type player he needed to be. I feel like Kenny did things to make him a better tennis player not necessarily a college tennis player. He was doing what was best for Kevin’s development.”
King was not the only former Tech player in qualifiers. Former Jacket Dean O’Brien beat former teammate Spir in the first round before falling in the second. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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