July 27, 2014
By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word
– It was great to see Kevin King again this week, and he loved being back in Atlanta to play pro tennis even if he didn’t exactly feel like he was at home.
On Saturday, just a few blocks from where he starred for Georgia Tech from 2008-’12 on his way to racking up a school-record 87 doubles wins for the Yellow Jackets, he bowed out of the BB&T Atlanta Open when he and Michael Venus fell 6-7, 7-5, 10-7 in the doubles semifinals to Sam Querrey and Steve Johnson.
There’s the thing: King partnered with Venus, not Juan Spir.
Spir – King’s teammate and frequent doubles partner deluxe at Tech from 2009-’12 – also was in the BB&T’s doubles field, yet they did not play together. Spir and fellow Colombian Alejandro Gonzalez lost their first match.
King and Spir still play together frequently, and earlier this year won ITF Futures tour doubles titles in Panama and Mexico in addition to a pair of ATP Challenger tour titles in Mexico.
King also won two Futures doubles titles in Mexico with former Tech teammate Dean O’Brien as a partner, and has won a couple singles championships in Futures.
Rankings points don’t accumulate quickly in the “minor leagues,” however, so King and Spir sometimes attach themselves to more established players.
“To play in the bigger tournaments, like the ATP 250s [like Atlanta], we have to split up and each play with a guy who is ranked a little bit higher,” King said. “It was a little different. We’ve played so much together.”
King and Spir, who like current Tech player Nathan Rakitt failed to advance out of qualifying into the main singles draw of the BB&T, have played quite a bit with and without each other.
In his second full season as a professional, King is meeting with more success all the way to Wimbledon.
He and fellow American Ryan Harrison won a pair of qualifying matches there to make the main draw, where they fell in their first-round match.
“It was incredible,” he reported. “We won two good matches, and had a tough first-round match, but it was a great experience being there. You see a lot of big names around the cafeteria and so forth.”
King spends time with his family in Peachtree City when home. He practices out of Tech when in Atlanta, stays in touch with Jackets’ coach and former touring pro Kenny Thorne, and practices at other times in North Carolina with long-time mentor Sean Ferreira.
With a travel schedule that would make heads spin, however, the 2012 graduate said he’s probably been in Atlanta just three or four weeks since January.
“I’ve had a good year. I’ve been able to stay healthy, and travel a lot. I’ve really been enjoying it,” he said. “I still see coach [Thorne] a lot when I’m in Atlanta, and he was able to come out to some of these matches.”
King and Venus, who in the first round beat D Sharan and Atlanta’s Donald Young 6-1, 3-6, 11-9 before advancing to the semifinals with a walkover from Atlanta’s Robby Ginepri (withdrew) and Harrison, rallied from an 0-3 deficit in Saturday’s match breaker to even at 3-3.
Querrey and Johnson seized control from there, however, to advance.
King and Spir each won a singles match in qualifiers before falling to the same player – Australia’s John-Patrick Smith (whom King beat earlier in the year).
King is 0-1 in ATP singles matches this year, 2-4 in Challenger matches, and 13-3 in Futures events.
Late player withdrawals from the BB&T singles main draw meant that tournament officials allowed seven qualifiers in rather than the four qualifying winners they planned to take.
Three “lucky losers” therefore advance, and Venus was the third in just ahead of King.
Lucky losers are prioritized by their rankings, and where Venus was ranked behind King prior to qualifiers, he rose ahead of King by virtue of winning two qualifying matches before losing. He played one more match than King because King had a first-round bye in qualifiers.
Next stop: Vancouver, where King will play in a Challenger.
Soon, he and Spir may be able to gain entry into ATP events on a more regular basis.
“Hopefully,” King said, “If we keep moving up [the rankings], we’ll be able to play together in a few weeks.”
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