Vania King InterviewWritten by TalkAboutTennis
The year 2006has been one of break- throughs for 17-year old American Vania King. At the end of 2005 Vania was ranked 202 in the world, had one ITF doubles title to her name and had not yet turned pro. One year later, things look very different. After reaching the semifinals in Bangalore (India) and beating 16th seed Klara Koukalova to reach the third round at Indian Wells, Vania broke into the top 100. A few months later, in July, she took perhaps the biggest of steps and turned pro. Not wasting any time, Vania won her career-first main tour title in doubles in Tokyo in October, partnering Jelena Kostanic. She followed that up by winning both the Bangkok Open singles and doubles titles the very next week. If that was not impressive enough, Vania managed to finish the year ranked 50th in the world.Before sinking her teeth into the new season, Vania was kind enough to conduct a Q&A for TAT.
We would like to express great thanks to Vania and her representation, as well as the members of TAT, who so enthusiastically posted a whole bunch of questions and have helped make this first TAT Pro Talk the wonderful thing it has become.
Enjoy the read! And look out for new editions of TAT Pro Talk!
TAT: What exactly does "turning pro" entail? What are the steps, and how much of a financial burden is the tour for someone just starting out (airfare, hotels, coach, training) compared to the other players who've had the chance to earn some prize money?
VK: Turning pro meant that I officially started accepting prize money at tournaments and from sponsors. There really is only one step required to turn pro: that is to advise the WTA and USTA that I elected to start accepting prize money. The primary difference between being an amateur and professional is that as an amateur, you can only claim expenses. So, if I earned ten thousand dollars at a tournament and my expenses were two thousand, I would only be able to take two thousand. It is very expensive when you make the commitment to play tennis professionally. I had a quite unusual road to where I am ranked now—most players take at least a few years to break top 100. If you break top 100, you probably have enough money to support yourself, but probably not enough to support a coach or trainer to travel with you. Even with the quick start I’ve had on Tour, my parents have invested a tremendous amount of money—starting from when I was a junior—to support my tennis.
TAT: You are 5'5''. How big is that a detriment in the "Big Babe" tennis era and what are the advantages of the lower height, for you? You've obviously been able to do battle with bigger, taller players, but before playing the WTA tour, were you intimidated by their size?
VK: Of course there are some disadvantages of being smaller than most of the girls on Tour, like not being able to reach as far or hit my serve as hard. But I think there are just as many, or more advantages of being my size. I may not have as big of a step as some other girls, but in the time it takes for them to take one step, I can take two. Though it makes me sound like a frog, I am lower to the ground, so I don’t have to bend down as far as taller girls.I may not have as big of a step as some other girls, but in the time it takes for them to take one step, I can take two.Before I was on the Tour, I was in a bit of awe of the girls like Venus, Serena, Justine, and Lindsay, which was normal, looking back, but because they were so good, not because they were tall. At the 2005 US Open, I played in the second round on Armstrong Stadium, and I think that was one of the most experience building matches for me. I really learned to deal with the pressures of playing big matches quickly, because you have to. Of course, that is just the first step, because I have not played any matches late in big tournaments so far, and those matches would be another level of pressure I will need to learn to cope with.
TAT: What are your goals for 2007?
VK: I seem to have been pretty successful with my goals so far; making the qualifying event for this year’s Australian Open, main draw of Roland Garros and Wimbledon, and reaching top 50 by the end of the year. The goals I set for myself are not to give me any pressure in any way, but to motivate me, which I think is best. If I have tried my best and did not reach them, I will be satisfied. Hopefully by the end of 2007 I will be top 30 in singles, and top 20 in doubles. But trying my best comes first, so if I have done all I could, I will be happy.
TAT: You've been able to push some of the tour's top players (Jankovic, Safina, Sugiyama) to three sets in your first year on the Tour. What do you think is the missing piece in your game to winning these matches?
VK: In many of the matches I’ve lost, I think the deciding factor was my fitness. I started training off court only about a year and a half ago, so I have been trying to play catch up with my conditioning. Throughout the year, I think I improved tremendously on my strength and stamina, but as my ranking went up, the level of players I was up against went up too. It was only until Wimbledon when I believed I could play against the top players, which was a big factor into my decision to turn professional. I now have a much better understanding of what I need in my game and my fitness.
TAT: In addtion to your tennis skills, you are a very accomplished singer. Which would you rather have- a US Open Trophy or a Grammy?
VK: Singing is something I love to do—I could sing all day if I could. As it is, I sing when I find time to, probably half an hour a day. I regard tennis a little differently, not only because it is now my job, but tennis is much tougher for me. There are many days when I wake up and don’t feel like practicing or training, but I push myself through it. It gets lonely traveling and jet lag is terrible. Sometimes you are in countries where there are security at the airports with AK’s and no one speaks your language. To me, these are all learning experiences, and positive for your life, though you probably don’t feel that way at the time. So I would rather have a US Open (or Wimbledon) trophy, as opposed to a Grammy, because I think if I held up the Slam trophy, the road would have been much tougher and thus more satisfying.
TAT: You've probably noticed that the media has been writing obituaries for US tennis this year. As a young player who has won her 1st title and has been moving up in the rankings, what is your opinion of this - unfair, premature, cause for concern?
VK: It is true that the US does not have many or any players in the top 10, which is a cause for concern. But I wouldn’t go so far as to write off American tennis as the media has done to a degree. I am proud to play for the United States and look forward to Fed Cup and the Olympics, but I find it a little odd when some refer to me as the future of American tennis. I have always just tried my best, and it is a little overwhelming and honoring that people might depend on me to carry the American tradition. I don’t think I am in a position to expound on the reasons why American tennis is in a deficit, because everyone has their own views, and I am not even sure what is right. I am sure there is more than one reason, so everyone may be right. No matter what, I think the drive to become the best comes from the players themselves, though a dedicated coach and team is necessary to succeed at the highest levels. I have no doubt that American tennis will get back on track and I hope I can be a factor in our resurgence.
TAT: What is a typical day for you in terms of how much you train, practice, relax, etc.?
VK: When I am not at a tournament, I usually train five days a week, Saturdays a half-day, and Sundays off. I usually practice three to four hours a day, and one and a half to two hours of fitness. If I can, I will split my practice into two sessions; the first I will do drills and the second I will play points. For fitness, I will probably do some sort of heavy cardio exercise for stamina at least two days a week, and agility drills the other two days. Of course, these are all just outlines, and if I feel like I need something specific, I will do as much as I need.
TAT: Ten years down the road, when you're in the later stages of your career, what do you hope to be able to look back and have accomplished?
VK: I want to look back knowing I gave myself 100% whenever I went out onto the court and in preparation. I would love to have trophies and win Grand Slams, but what would be more fulfilling is if I made a positive impact on people (which would probably be more attainable if I had those trophies!). A trophy is obviously something I would treasure very much, but to help others is worth far greater in the long run. I know it really sounds cliché, but I realize in this life that the best thing for us to do is to be happy, and when you are happy and try your best, you help others be happy.
TAT: Which players do you most admire? Whose game do you like?
VK: I don’t know the top players well enough to judge characters, but regarding their tennis game, I like the way Justine Henin-Hardenne plays. When I was growing up, I watched Agassi and Sampras play a lot, and I really admired Sampras’s aggressiveness. Now of course it is a joy for everyone to watch Federer play, because of his talent, incredible fitness, and his mannerisms.
Official Vania King Website