Thursday, February 17, 2011

Vania King Is As Good As Lebron James

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2011 at 2:25 PM

Vania King
  • Vania King
There are some world-class athletes in Memphis this week, and they're not basketball players.

They're professional tennis players, and what's more, some of them are women. And one of them, Vania King, gets my vote as the best women's doubles player in the world.

Pound for athletic pound, I'll put her up against Lebron James, who is all over the Internet and SportsCenter this week for his 90-foot alley-oop pass and catch with Dwayne Wade.

King is 5 feet 5 inches tall, and can't weigh much more than 100 pounds. She is fit but not muscular. James is 6 feet 8 inches tall and 240 pounds and looks like a bodybuilder.

King won the doubles championships at the U.S. Open and Wimbledon in 2010. She and her partner, are entered in the doubles at the Cellular South Cup at the Racquet Club this week.

Here's my case for King:

She has to react to a tennis ball coming at her at a speed of more than 100 miles an hour from a distance less than the pitcher's mound to the batter's box. Imagine a big-league pitcher throwing a ball at you from half that distance and you get a rough idea of the reflexes required to play pro tennis at the net.

Then she has to do something with it — either volley it back or return it in the court out of reach of the players on the other side.

In basketball and football, the players get bigger but the size of the playing field or court doesn't change, and the ball stays the same. In tennis, everything changes, place to place and year to year.

The surface changes from grass to clay to outdoor hardcourts to indoor hardcourts, and the speed and bounce of the ball changes accordingly. But the biggest change is the racquets and the string. The new "big banger" string enables women today to hit the ball as hard as men did 20 years ago when Andre Agassi was coming up and much harder than men did 30 years ago when John McEnroe was in his prime. Watching a tape of a pro tennis match in 1980 is like watching a different game. I bet McEnroe hits harder now on the seniors tour than he did when he was number one in the world.

Vania King and the other pros in Memphis this week all knock the crap out of the ball. Not because they are brute strong, but because their technique, timing, and coordination are perfect. And their racquets are so powerful. And they've been playing since their could walk.

Women's doubles is the sleeper event at this tournament even though there are no headliners. Women don't serve many aces, so the ball is usually in play. There's usually one player up and one back on each team, with the player at the net trying to cut off the crosscourts and still cover lobs too.

In basketball, the players spend too much time sitting around. The dreaded free-throw shooting contest is the ending of many a game. As the saying goes, if I have one minute to live let it be the last minute of a close basketball game. There are fewer pauses in the action in a tennis match. In doubles, the deciding point in a game is do or die because of the no-ad scoring system.

A tennis player must hit a serve hard enough to create an advantage or end the point outright or return a spinning serve going at least 100 miles an hour and put it in play without the opponent at the net picking it off.

The best doubles players are usually not great singles players, but they get first serves and returns in when it matters. And their reflexes are phenomenal.

Vania King, for my money, does this better than any woman on the planet.

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