Vania King reached the third round in singles at the 2011 French Open, her best performance to date in Paris.
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By Matt Cronin, special to USTA.com
PARIS -- Vania King says she's not a veteran at the age of 22, but she is no stranger to Grand Slam draws, either. She is making her sixth main-draw appearance at Roland Garros, but that doesn't mean that she can walk on court without feeling a few butterflies.
She knew she was an underdog against ninth seed Petra Kvitova but decided to let the match come to her, and while she suffered a 6-4, 6-2 defeat in the third round, she acquitted herself nicely in a contest that was much closer than the score indicated.
"Today I went out there nervous," she said. "I think if you're not nervous, then it's a problem. You should be stressed because you want to do well and compete. And I did want it. I was nervous because I wanted to do well and show what I was capable of. I think with her game style, the points are not going to last that long; they're not going to be 10- to 12-ball rallies, which I could do if she played slower. Overall, I think I dealt with the nerves quite well."
King was the last American woman standing in the tournament, although Bethanie Mattek-Sands also reached the third round but played on Friday. American Mardy Fish was unable to reach the round of 16, either, so by late Saturday afternoon, there were no Americans left in the singles draw.
But that doesn't mean that players such as King shouldn't be proud of their performances because she played about as well as she can on clay and was taken down by a big-hitting lefthander who has Grand Slam-winning potential. King wasn't just pushed around on court, and had she been able to move Kvitova around a little more and hold easier, she could have pulled an upset. That's a positive for a 22-year-old player who nearly quit the tour two years ago.
Had she not felt like she had suffered a groin pull in the second set, she might have been able to claw her way into the third set, but a long three-set victory over Elena Baltacha in the second round took a lot out of her.
"She's a great player," King said. "It's a pity. It's disappointing to lose, but I think I've played a lot of good tennis this week. I'm happy with the way I was playing and my performance. I know that I can improve and do better."
King is coached by Frenchman Tarik Benhabiles, so she has begun to embrace clay. She moved from California to Florida a couple of years ago in order to focus more on her tennis and rid herself of the distractions of her hometown. Benhabiles has taught her to construct points more thoughtfully and has given her a more in-depth reading of the court. To a degree, she has embraced the French way of playing.
"They support me in French. They say, 'Allez, come on, bravo.' Actually, I support myself in French, which I don't know if people notice. Tarik is a French coach, and I think that a lot of the Americans train in a more aggressive playing style, to play hard, hard, hard and flat. That's the way I was playing before. A lot of Europeans, because they train on clay, they're forced to be more creative and be more fit and use angles. I think I've done a much better job lately just enjoying, being creative, trying to play my game and not worrying about the result. I'm happy with my improvement so far, and I'm looking forward to improving more."
While King is out of the singles, she and her partner, Yaroslava Shvedova are still in the doubles. Last year, they came out of almost nowhere to win the Wimbledon and US Open crowns, and now they are one of the world's top teams, seeded third at Roland Garros and hoping to push their way deep into the second week.
Vania King comes from the same tennis-happy city that U.S. legend Billie Jean King does -- Long Beach, Calif. Billie Jean's names is spoken in hallowed terms around the public and private courts there, and her frequent mantra of "Pressure is a Privilege" is something that Vania can relate to. Both of them grew up at the same tennis center, and while Vania does not have as many Slam titles as BJK in her pocket, she wouldn't mind blazing down a similar path.
"I'm sure when I was four she told me, 'Pressure is a privilege,' because she has many mantras and she likes to reiterate them, and they're great," Vania said. "I think everyone should follow them. It's kind of like Confucius: so simple, yet so hard to follow. She's such a champion, a pioneer, and she's one of the reasons why we are here today in women's tennis. Everything she says is brilliant."