By Jason Rubinstein, Daily Sports Writer
Published April 16, 2013
Last April, senior Evan King hit a booming serve wide against then-fourth-ranked Dennis Nevolo of Illinois. After a big backhand return, followed by a nine-stroke rally, King watched as Nevolo’s desperation lob bounced just beyond the baseline.
He’d done it; he’d just beat Nevolo. This was instrumental, as King had neither defeated Illinois, nor Nevolo. Seconds later, King’s whole team surrounded him, jumping with joy. There are moments in every athlete’s life that justify all the sacrifices he or she makes — for King, this was it.
Now, it’s King’s turn to hit the professional circuit. As soon as his Michigan career ends, King will immediately start his pro career.
Growing up, King was widely regarded as one of the future stars of American tennis. King was always a favorite in junior grand-slam tournaments. Just as often, he won.
For Evan, though, the choice was clear.
At age 17 or 18, junior tennis players, especially those with King’s pedigree, are faced with a tough decision — collegiate tennis vs. professional tennis. And often times, the promise of tournament titles and prize money trumps years of toiling in the trenches.
This was a surprisingly simple decision for King. Although lots of King’s childhood friends, whom he met through tennis, were going pro, King knew he had to attend college.
“It was a simple decision,” King said. “I was never turning pro right out of high school. My parents always stressed a college education, so it wasn’t on the table, even if had the ability to do so.”
King’s parents, Van and Evelyn, knew that college was a no-brainer and would be instrumental in his tennis career, despite risking a slow start on the professional circuit. A Michigan education was too great of an opportunity.
“I went to Michigan,” Van said. “I know when I came out and started working, I had seen the best of the best, and was prepared. And I knew it would be the same with Evan.”
King also received advice from former Wolverine MaliVai “Mal” Washington, whom King has known since he was 10. Formerly a finalist at Wimbledon and 11th-ranked player in the world, Washington shared his experiences at Michigan with King. Mal, too, turned down the professional circuit at age 18 in order to attend Michigan.
He told King that this would be the smartest and best decision he ever made. Washington has held his own against the likes of Grand Slam champions Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier. King knew if a player of this caliber could be successful after attending college, so could he.
King had one of the most polished résumés an entering freshman can have. But despite King’s junior success, Michigan coach Bruce Berque knew he could improve King’s game through discipline, hard work and conditioning.
“One of the main reasons Evan came to Michigan was because of the success of Bruce Berque,” Van said. “Bruce understood the work ethic to get to the top. He has done a great job preparing of Evan for the grind and has done a tremendous, tremendous job.
“Evan has won 180-some matches at Michigan, while many of his friends who went pro at 17 are losing every week. You aren’t learning as much from losing matches are you are from winning or having the responsibility of the team on your shoulders. He is much more mature from coming to Michigan.”
And as King nears graduation, it’s clear Berque knew how to handle him. (Under Berque’s tutelage), King became Michigan’s most decorated tennis player
But the professional circuit can be grueling. It’s complicated in structure, and it’s certain King will have to improve despite his overwhelming success at Michigan.
“He is good at everything,” Berque said. “A lot of college players have particular strengths like a great forehand or serve, but have obvious holes in their game that can be exploited. He has no true weakness. But moving forward, to have success at the pro level, he needs to develop more obvious strengths and more impactful weapons.”
King responded: “Coach nailed it right on the head. I’m consistent, I’m quick, I don’t really break down and I’m not uncomfortable in any situation. But I still do need to work on my one or two shots to become huge. I’m going to work on my serve to get free points and make that a weapon and I’m looking to end points on my forehand because that’s the side I can hit bigger on and do more with.”
King will enter the professional circuit playing both singles and doubles (he’ll pair up with 2011 Michigan graduate Jason Jung). King and Jung have already won a futures tournament together and will look to benefit from their chemistry that formed at Michigan.
But Jason and King’s schedules will not always be compatible, meaning King will likely have to shuffle between partners. That shouldn’t be a problem because, with his international experience, there will always be a partner waiting for him. King has even teamed up with ex-rival and longtime friend Nevolo for certain tournaments.
King has clear goals for his career, but they will be hard because of the difficulty of the pro tour. Evan plans to play futures as soon as NCAA’s end, with hopes of entering the US Open qualifier.
King hopes to reach a top-75 ranking within three years of graduation — a goal that is reachable if the right amount of work is put in.
King has etched himself into Michigan tennis history, but his legacy, he hopes, will not end here.
“I couldn’t be more proud of how Evan has matured himself at Michigan, but also what he has left behind,” Van said. “I went to Michigan and the legacy he is leaving at Michigan is being one of the most successful players in program history. To me it’s huge, and I could not be prouder.
“I have no doubt he will succeed. There are no signs that he can’t.”