Vania King faces Ana Ivanovic in her third-round match.
© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
MELBOURNE, Australia - Vania King is the only member of her famous tennis family to make it as a tennis pro. She is talented both on court and off, as she has a good enough singing voice to be asked to perform at sporting events.
But the baby of the Southern California family is not the only King to make it in life: two of her sisters Ivana (Princeton) and Mindy (Penn) went to Ivy League schools, while her bother Phillip was an All-American player at Duke and a two-time USTA 18s Nationals champion.
The entire group of King children were high-level juniors, and her two sisters and brother are now success stories off the court, but it's Vania who is making waves in between the lines.
"There are a lot of reasons why people are successful, and I was the last one, and I guess my parents (David and Karen) learned from their mistakes," she said. "Coming from an East Asian Chinese family, academics are really important, and I think my brother wanted to play professionally more than I did. I was more a follower, and he was the one who started, and he really wanted to play and was so passionate about it.
"Unfortunately, he was a boy and the eldest, and my parents really influenced him to go to college. For his happiness and independence, that's not what he wanted to do, but in Eastern cultures, you live for your family and community and not for the individual. It's a pity not to know how good he could have been, but he can't complain because he went to Duke for four years and got his MBA there, and he does have a good life."
The 22-year-old scoffs when she is called a veteran, but the reality is that she has playing full time on tour for the past six years and is no stranger to the WTA. She cracked the top 50 when she was 17 in 2006, the same year she won her first singles title in Bangkok. She says she really did not know then why she was winning and was essentially playing on instinct. A couple of few years later, she was not sure if she wanted to continue.
"I came up pretty fast when I was 16 1/2, 17, and I didn't really know why I was good," King said after she upended No. 15 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. "I didn't know why I was playing because my dad was coaching me for a long time and he was the one who was pushing me. I didn't find enjoyment for myself. I was finding enjoyment because I was winning and other people were happy about it. After I stopped with my dad when I was 17, I was struggling for two years because I was playing because I didn't know what else to do. But I wasn't happy or motivated. I was going into a downward spiral."
King nearly quit but instead went to Florida and visited with Tarik Benhabiles, who once coached Andy Roddick. He did not read her the riot act, but he did help her put things in perspective. At the end of 2008, she moved from Long Beach to Florida and went to work with the notable coach, whom she feels in completely in tune with players.
"I give two people credit for my tennis -- my dad, because he built the foundation, and Tarik," she said. "He said, 'If you want to play, then play, and if you don't, stop now.' He jolted me out of the downward spiral. He said, 'Try it for six months, and I guarantee you'll have results.' I worked hard, and it's been three years, and slowly my tennis and motivation improved. And last year, my relationship with my dad got better, and that helped me be more balanced in my life and on court."
King's parents were not thrilled when she moved to Florida, especially her mother, as her baby was leaving. But they visit her often, and her dad is actually staying at her Florida condo this week, as he loves to fish.
"They respect that I've grown up," she said.
After she bested Pavlyuchenkova, ESPN's Pam Shriver asked King to sing a few bars from "Dream a Little Dream of Me," which she did, although she was a little anxious about it. A few years ago, King -- who has taken voice lessons -- was constantly singing at venues (including the US Open), but she has since stopped performing.
"It's actually energy consuming, so I try to not to do it at tournaments any more," she said. "It does make me nervous to perform in front of people, and I don't want to put myself through a lot stress."
The 66th-ranked King has become a top-eight ranked doubles player with her partner Yaroslava Shvedova, but she is still prioritizing singles. She'll play former No. 1 champion Ana Ivanovic in the third round, who has beaten her in all of their three meetings, including at the 2007 Australian Open. However, they have not faced off in two-and-a-half years, and King is a much-improved player.
"She's very tough, and hopefully I will be able to deal with the stress well," King said.