Former Georgia Tech standout Kevin King walked on Stadium Court Tuesday evening in Atlanta without a tour-level victory. The 28-year-old World No. 405 walked off with not just a win, but a victory against 2017 Nitto ATP Finals champion and former World No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov, whom he defeated 7-5, 6-4 to reach the second round of the BB&T Atlanta Open.
“It’s fantastic. Wouldn’t have rather done it at any other place,” King said. “It was a great crowd out there, great energy, so I’m just thrilled to have won that.”
The week has been extra emotional for King, who received a wild card into qualifying before advancing to the main draw. The lefty’s father, William, had not seed him play for two years before qualifying on Saturday due to a stroke.
“It’s very special,” King said. “It’s been a couple years since he’s seen me play, so just happy that he’s able to come out and support me.”
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Before this match, King’s best win came against then-World No. 81 Ernesto Escobedo at an ATP Challenger Tour event in September 2017. Against Dimitrov, an eight-time ATP Tour champion, King earned 23 break points, converting seven of them. The Atlanta resident did well to keep his number of unforced errors down throughout the match.
“It was incredible. It seemed he wasn’t quite at 100 per cent, so it definitely gave me some looks in his service games,” King said. “But I was glad to be able to close it out at the end.”
For a moment, it appeared the Bulgarian may steal the momentum with his back against the wall. In Dimitrov’s final service game, the World No. 53 struck a backhand volley crosscourt that he thought was wide, and he even shook the chair umpire’s hand. But a challenge revealed that it clipped the line, giving Dimitrov new hope.
“I actually thought it was in when he hit it. I was shocked that he was walking to the bench, so I had a little hope that it might’ve been out,” King said. “I was actually surprised it was that close.”
If Dimitrov held that game to even the second set, it could have gotten sticky for King, who has won just six of 21 Challenger matches this season. But the home favourite forced the Bulgarian to beat him, which Dimitrov did not.
“[I] really was just trying to focus on making the return, not trying to get caught up in the score or the moment,” King said. “Just trying to get started in each point and try to make him work.”
It won’t get any easier for King, who will next face second seed Taylor Fritz. The Americans have never met at tour-level, but Fritz defeated King in three sets at an ATP Challenger Tour event last season. As excited as he is to earn the biggest victory of his career, King knows his tournament is not over yet.
“It’s great to celebrate it a little bit now with my friends and family out there, but I’ll go back, do a little recovery and start focussing on the next match.”