ISSUE OF THE YEAR: King impresses at US open
As 2017 draws to a close, we look back at some of the stories that caught the public’s attention over the year.
This story was originally published on August 30, 2017.
THE WORLD now knows the name Darian King.
Barbados’ king of swing didn’t add another magical chapter to a fairy-tale run, but he did put the tennis world on notice after holding two set points in a hard-fought loss to fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the first round of the US Open.
Playing to the wee hours of yesterday morning, the 25-year-old King impressed the McEnroe brothers John and Patrick on ESPN before ultimately falling 7-6(9), 7-5, 6-4 in two hours and 50 minutes – one of the longest opening night matches on Arthur Ashe.
“I feel really happy with my performance because it’s my first time playing on one of the biggest courts in the world inside of one of the biggest stadiums in all of tennis and to go out there and compete with a guy ranked sixth in the world is a huge accomplishment for me and Barbados,” King said.
It brought an end to a truly historic ride that saw the unfancied world no. 168 become the first player to represent Barbados at a Grand Slam by qualifying for the main draw.
He didn’t bow out with a whimper though, having made Zverev sweat under the bright lights of prime time in a tight 81-minute-long first set that King had no right losing.
With most of the dwindling Arthur Ashe crowd rallying behind him, King jumped out to a 5-3 lead in the first set tiebreak before staving off two set points at 5-6 and 6-7 on Zverev’s unforced errors.
He then had the set wrapped up for sure while getting a short ball to his forehand with the towering six-foot-six German sprawled out of position.
But King caught the top of the tape with a certain passing shot, and then double-faulted at 9-8 to let his opponent off the hook again.
And Zverev immediately made him pay, whipping a backhand past him before serving out the set when King dumped a forehand into the net.
“The match probably goes different because I think the first set was very crucial to the outcome after we played like an hour and a half with some very long rallies and great shot-making,” said King.
“That forehand really was me overthinking that ball as I had to change up my strategy because I spent most of this tournament attacking people’s backhands but he has one of the best backhands in the game. I just tried to pressure his forehand too much instead of simply going with my strength of going down the line on that show.
“I think that just came down to experience because I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to play at such a big stage in front of so many people. I needed to handle that experience a lot better especially against an opponent who strikes the ball so hard like Zverev.”
It looked certain to be another of those major let-downs by the gifted 20-year-old German, who has flattered to deceive at Grand Slams by failing to get out of the fourth round.
King appeared to be buoyed by that unflattering record too, breaking the error-prone world no.6 early on before holding two more break point at 15-40 for what seemed a certain 4-1 cushion.
However, Zverev saved both with telling serves and then broke King twice in succession to go up 5-3.
The German didn’t appear to have a game plan though and was clearly flustered when the man ranked 162 places below him came up with an answer for each of his booming groundstrokes.
Flashing some of the best defensive tennis of his career, King ultimately broke back and then forced a tiebreak after the hard-hitting youngster continued to go long on his backhand.
He went toe to toe with Zverev in the second set too while pulling the trigger on a number of forehand and backhand winners down the line.
At one point Zverev found it near impossible to get past King’s impregnable defence, even with the biggest of forehands from the baseline.
But King eventually blinked first, missing two easy forehands long of the mark while going wide on a drop shot to give Zverev the break at 6-5.
The fourth seed then duly closed out the set with a thunderous first serve and two more unforced errors from King.
Zverev eventually sealed the deal by producing a deft half volley and another forehand winner to break the visibly tired King for 2-1.
Yet the handful of Barbadians in the crowd didn’t let him wilt away, having willed their countryman to another strong showing in the third set.