Monday, October 3, 2016

Once defaulted from match, King wins Tiburon title

Unseeded Darian King of Barbados celebrates after beating 18-year-old
qualifier Michael Mmoh of Bradenton, Fla., 7-6 (2), 6-2 Sunday to win
the $100,000 Tiburon Challenger. It was King's third (and biggest)
Challenger title, all in the last three months. Getty Images
   TIBURON, Calif. -- Darian King was about as low as a player can get.
   Not in the rankings, although he was plenty low at No. 310.
   His reputation was in tatters, his spirit broken.
   Two years ago, King was defaulted from his first-round match in a $50,000 indoor tournament in Charlottesville, Va., for hitting a lineswoman with his racket, which he had thrown in anger at the tarpaulin hanging behind the court.
   The racket bounced off the tarp and lightly struck the lineswoman, standing nearby, in the back. She suffered only a minor knee injury as she fell to the court.
   King has come a long way since then. Faced with adversity in the final of the $100,000 Wells Fargo Bank Tiburon Challenger on Sunday, the unseeded King remained calm and defeated 18-year-old qualifier Michael Mmoh, one of several potential stars for the long-struggling United States, 7-6 (2), 6-2 on a windy day at the Tiburon Peninsula Club.
   "I used to get very frustrated on court when things aren't going my way, but as you get older, you start to understand the game much better," admitted King, a 24-year-old native of Barbados, a small island nation in the Caribbean Sea. "I'm glad I'm starting to really understand my game. That's the most important thing. Don't get frustrated when your plan is not working. I think I've been doing a great job of that."
   King collected $14,400 for his third (and biggest) Challenger singles title, all in the last three months, and jumped 30 places in the world rankings to a career-high No. 135. He won back-to-back championships -- although not in consecutive weeks -- in Cali, Colombia, on clay and Binghamton, N.Y., on outdoor hardcourts in July. Both were $50,000 tournaments.
   King was asked what the difference is between him now and two years ago.
   "Much stronger, much faster, much fitter," replied King, a lithe 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters) and 170 pounds (77 kilograms). "I think I know my game now. I play the big points well, especially 30-all, 40-all. I've overcome that and become stronger mentally. Two years ago, I had a very bad incident, and, as you can see on court, I've improved a lot."
   Keith Crossland, the USTA supervisor in Charlottesville in 2014 and in Tiburon this week, has seen a change in King's attitude since the default.
   "Very definitely," Crossland asserted. "I think he's become much more professional. He's also playing better. Obviously, that helps (a player's) attitude.
   "He played Davis Cup for Barbados. That kind of excitement also has helped him improve and grow and become a much more professional tennis player."
After dominating Darian King early with power, Michael Mmoh tired from
his long week. Getty Images
   King faced a formidable, though weary, foe in Mmoh. A chiseled 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters) and 187 pounds (85 kilograms), he was playing in his eighth match, including three in qualifying, in eight days in this affluent community across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
   Crushing his serve and forehand in his first Challenger final, Mmoh won four straight games to lead 4-2 in the first set and served for the set at 5-4. King, however, raised his game and broke on an inside-out forehand passing shot.
   King saved two break points to hold for 6-5 and then came within two points of winning the set at 30-30, but Mmoh belted a forehand passing shot down the line and pounded a service winner to force the tiebreaker.
   As it turned out, Mmoh was done physically and mentally. He committed five errors while dropping the tiebreaker and promptly fell behind 4-0 in the second set.
   "I played a lot of matches, I came from qualies, and I started to get a little fatigued," moaned Mmoh, who won the USTA boys 18 title in August to earn an automatic wild card in the U.S. Open. "He's a tough guy to play. It's probably the worst matchup I could get in the condition I'm in. It's just unlucky.
   "He won't really miss the ball. He'll kind of just bunt the ball from side to side and make you work. It takes a very big physical toll. It's not exactly what my body wanted today."
   Mmoh's road to the final was not only long but treacherous. He prevailed 7-6 (7) in the third set against Erik Crepaldi of Italy in the second round of qualifying, survived three match points against American Tennys Sandgren in the first round of the main draw and escaped one match point in his 2-6, 6-3, 7-6 (6) victory over No. 3 seed and defending champion Tim Smyczek of the United States in the semifinals.
   Sandgren retired with a lower back injury while trailing 2-0 in the third set. King also benefited from a retirement while leading in the third set en route to the final. In the second round, top-seeded Benjamin Becker, 35, of Germany quit with a chest muscle strain with King ahead 4-2.
   Mmoh earned $8,480 (he turned pro last year) and, more importantly, soared 92 places to a career-high No. 264. A one-man United Nations, he was born in Saudi Arabia to Tony Mmoh, a former journeyman pro and Olympian from Nigeria, and Geraldine O'Reilly, an Irishwoman who also holds Australian citizenship.
   Tony was coaching the Saudi Arabian Davis Cup team, and Geraldine, an avid tennis fan, was working in Saudi Arabia as a nurse at the time.
   Michael was named after Michael Jordan. Tony became infatuated with the NBA legend while attending St. Augustine's College (now St. Augustine's University) in North Carolina and later gained U.S. citizenship.
   The Mmohs moved to Washington, D.C., when Michael was a child. He trains at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.
   King, meanwhile, is the only man or woman from Barbados among the 4,000 or so players with a world ranking. Barbados is too small to run a marathon from one end to the other -- 21 miles (34 kilometers) long and up to 14 miles (23 kilometers) wide. Its population of 291,495 is about the same as that of Anchorage, Alaska, with about as many tennis players.
   As a youth, King trained at the Washington, D.C.-area center where Frances Tiafoe, another 18-year-old potential star, grew up.
   King said it was "very tough" to become a pro tennis player from Barbados.
   "I had to choose between football (soccer) and tennis, and I was more successful in tennis," explained King, who lost to American Steve Johnson in the first round of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August. "The sport in Barbados is not that big. I'm trying to be a role model for the young ones coming up and show them that whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. I'm glad I chose this sport, and I'm glad I'm putting my all into it."
Third-seeded Matt Reid, left, and John-Patrick Smith of Australia bump fists
during their 6-1, 6-2 victory over Quentin Halys of France and Dennis Novikov
of Milpitas in the San Francisco Bay Area in the doubles final. Getty Images 
   In the doubles final, third-seeded Matt Reid and John-Patrick Smith of Australia routed unseeded Quentin Halys, 19, of France and Dennis Novikov of Milpitas on the other side of San Francisco Bay 6-1, 6-2 in 45 minutes. Reid had lost the last two Tiburon doubles finals with countryman Carsten Ball.
   Here are:
   --The completed Tiburon singles and doubles draws.
   --The Stockton singles qualifying, singles main and doubles main draws and today's schedule. The $100,000 men's tournament, held in Sacramento for the past 11 years, has moved to the new Eve Zimmerman Tennis Center at the University of the Pacific. King and Mmoh could meet in the quarterfinals.
   --The Redding singles qualifying draw and today's schedule. The $25,000 women's tournament is being played at Sun Oaks Tennis & Fitness.

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