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TENNIS : A Future King Has Ways to Go

David walked onto the court first, followed immediately by Goliath, and at 11:04 a.m. Monday, they let the U.S. Open begin.

Well, maybe it was more like 11:15 when Phillip King, our David, and Richard Krajicek, certainly a Goliath on the men’s tour if ever there was one, actually got down to the hitting and missing that will go on and on and on here for the next 13 days.

Unlike the mythical matchup settled by a feisty little guy with a slingshot, King had nowhere near enough pebbles. He is a 17-year-old from Long Beach, who stands 5 feet 9, weighs 139 pounds and has, as a reminder of his finest moment in tennis, the title in this year’s national boys’ 18 tournament. Krajicek, 28 in December, stands 6-5, weighs 200 and has, as a reminder of his finest moment in tennis, a Wimbledon title.

King is ranked about No. 700, Krajicek No. 12. Not too long ago, King was working as the cashier at his parents’ fish-and-chips place in Long Beach, the Eagles Lair. Krajicek has been his own sort of cashier, having earned more than $8 million in his tennis career. King has a 1,310 SAT score. Krajicek has a Porsche and a Mercedes and . . .

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You get the idea.

This was a worse mismatch than the Angels against a major league baseball team--any major league baseball team.

The score of the bloodletting, played on the old main court here that has become, with the construction of the 20,000-seat monstrosity called Arthur Ashe Stadium, Court No. 2, was 6-1, 6-4, 6-0.

That sort of one-sided result is normal on the first day of a Grand Slam event. But if King present was shrugged off easily by Krajicek, King future is not as easy to dismiss. His national boys’ title puts him in the U.S. Tennis Assn.'s plans, and no less than Davis Cup Captain Tom Gullikson was in the cozy gathering of about 1,000 watching.

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“He’s only 17, and he needs to grow a lot, get stronger and also work on his serve,” Gullikson said.

Gullikson also was aware of the biggest deficiency to date in King’s game on the pro tour: his lack of luck of the draw. This was his second pro tour event, and in his first, as a wild-card entry in the Los Angeles tournament in July, his name came out of the hat in the spot next to Pete Sampras. And here he drew Krajicek, who actually has a 6-3 record against Sampras and may serve harder.

Do not go to Las Vegas with Phillip King.

“He’s gonna need to play some mixed doubles, so he will get a chance to actually see some serves,” Gullikson said.

King, though, was able to put a positive spin on his Monday morning mugging.

“Look at it this way,” he said. “I just took it for all the rest of the Americans. They didn’t have to play him first. I did it. I’m such a noble guy, so gracious. I only think of others first.”

In his serious time, King is thinking about lots of things, including the likelihood that, since he has completed all the credits he needs in three years to graduate from Long Beach Poly High, he won’t go back for his senior year. He indicated that he probably wouldn’t go to college, either, passing on the probable offers from tennis powers such as UCLA, USC and Stanford.

“I might take a year and travel,” he said.

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With that travel will come more tournaments, as an amateur, that will serve as additional groundwork for a projected successful pro career.

“I don’t want to turn pro before I know exactly what’s out there . . . ,” he said. “Even this tournament, I got to play Krajicek, who’s 11th or 12th in the world. But what about the other guys I need to pass? What about the guys from No. 200 to 600? I don’t know anything about them, and I don’t want to turn pro and risk the chance because it’s tough. It’s a tough group out there.”

King enjoyed his best moment in the Krajicek match in the second set, when he broke Krajicek’s serve for a 4-3 lead. Actually, Krajicek broke Krajicek’s serve, managing three double faults in the game, the third one, on game point, sailing over the service line by 20 feet. But King couldn’t consolidate the break, losing the next game and, quickly, the rest of the match.

“That was a bad spot for me, to suddenly put in three double faults,” Krajicek said. “But the guy just wasn’t good enough to cash in. Against other guys, I wouldn’t have gotten away with that.”

Clearly, in tennis, it takes a bit more than a slingshot to topple Goliath. In King’s case, two or three years of taking shots at the big guys may suffice.


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