April 14, 2024

Open Court

MORE TENNIS THAN YOU'LL EVER NEED

First Slam, first main draw for American Kevin King

MELBOURNE, Australia – On the first day of the Australian Open, there were five major casualties amongst the highly ranked American players.

And then, there is Kevin King.

King faced No. 15 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the late-night match on Margaret Court Arena with few expectations.

But just by being there, and playing on the second-biggest court at a Grand Slam tournament, King was already a winner.

He lost 6-4, 6-4, 6-1, but he was competitive and, best of all, didn’t look overawed by the occasion in the least.

This was the 26-year-old’s first ever appearance at a major. It was his first career attempt at qualifying. And he made it.

And it comes a year after having surgery to repair labral tears in both hips within a three-month period.  

Here’s what King looked like in his 6-4, 7-6 (6) victory over Aussie serve-volleyer John Patrick Smith.

In the first round, King defeated No. 31 seed Uladzimir Ignatik of Belarus (ranked No. 179) 7-6 (2), 6-2.  In the second round, his victim was 21-year-old Czech named Zdenek Kolar (ranked No. 229). Smith is ranked No. 219.

That is a Grand Slam qualifying draw you want to take advantage of. But it can be easier said than done with all the players are generally even, and all feel that opportunity keenly. King came out of it with the big prize – a spot in the main draw and $50,000 (AUD) in guaranteed prize money.

King’s only previous Grand Slam experience was a first-round loss in doubles at the US Open last year, after receiving a wild card from the USTA.

He has qualified for two ATP Tour main draws in his career (his hometown Atlanta event in 2013 and Bogotá in 2014) and lost in the first round both times.

Mechanical engineering degree

A native of Peachtree City, Ga. (about 40 minutes outside Atlanta) King graduated from Georgia Tech at age 21 with a degree in mechanical engineering and two all-America nods. This, after not even having an ITF junior ranking.

He returned to Georgia Tech a few years ago as a volunteer coach, as he dealt with the hip issues that cost him a full year – from Nov. 2015 to Nov. 2016. He had been playing his best tennis when it happened, which factored into his decision to fight to return.

The two-time all-American at Georgia Tech graduated in four years with a degree in mechanical engineering while he was at it. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

Fourteen months ago, he had no ATP Tour ranking. 

A year ago this week, King was at No. 853 and grinding through a 128-player qualifying draw at a low-level Futures event in Sunrise, Fla. He lost in the second round. After 16 Challengers and eight Futures tournaments, he did well enough to book a trip Down Under.

As a tennis player, he had made just one trip outside North and South America – a two-tournament Futures tour in France in 2015. The trip to Australia for a Challenger and then the qualifying was exponentially the furthest he’s ever gone for tennis.

The reward: he’ll be on Margaret Court Arena against a former Australian Open finalist. And regardless of the outcome, he’ll break into the top 200 and reach a new career-best ranking.

Winning a Grand Slam is an impressive accomplishment. But it’s not the only way to win the week.

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