'Little V' came up with a big W for USA

What was more impressive last weekend, Vania King's singing or her swinging? The 18-year-old King sang the national anthem then helped clinch a spot in the Fed Cup semifinals for the United States, writes Bonnie DeSimone.

Updated: April 24, 2007, 8:19 PM ET
By Bonnie DeSimone | Special to ESPN.com

DELRAY BEACH, Fla. -- Vania King emerged from the Fed Cup weekend just past with a new nickname, "Little V," to distinguish her from towering teammate Venus Williams.

King also earned a new reputation for composure. As has been noted in many reports, her rendition of the national anthem on Saturday was in the top percentile of amateur performances and prompted Serena Williams to suggest that she try juggling the two careers.

Vania King
AP Photo/ Luis M. AlvarezVania King, right, couldn't have picked a better time to win her first career Fed Cup match.
When it came to replacing Serena on Sunday with a mere hour's notice, King brought her professional chops, grinding out a 2½-hour, three-set victory over Kirsten Flipkens that clinched the competition for the United States and was King's most significant match since she won a WTA tournament in Bangkok last October.

She made a few forays to the net early in the match -- a part of her game she's working on diligently -- but ultimately prevailed with her trademark steady play from the baseline on a day when wind gusts occasionally robbed both players of control.

King turned 18 in February. This is her first full season playing at this level, and after her jet-propelled rise through the rankings from nowhere to No. 50 last year, she has backslid to No. 83 and is still looking for her first win against a top-25 player.

"It's not gone so smoothly as I had hoped," she said of this season. "But I think everything starts with me. Everything is how I think about things. If I'm positive, doing the right things, then I don't really care about results and stuff like that."

Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison said she hopes King is available for the July semifinal against Russia -- she's the perfect utility player, at ease in singles or doubles (King won doubles titles in Bangkok and Tokyo last year), and as she showed at the microphone and on court, she can adapt whether she has rehearsal time or not.

Lisa Raymond, who gave King some doubles tutoring during the week, is a tell-me-when-and-I'll-be-there Fed Cup player. Venus Williams committed to being there as well. Her two singles victories make her 12-2 in singles, 15-3 overall in career Fed Cup play.

Serena, who played her first and, as it turns out, only Fed Cup match with a heavily taped thigh to prevent a recurrence of the groin injury that forced her out of the WTA event in Charleston, elected to withdraw Sunday because of inflammation in one knee. She said there was a "good possibility" she would play in July.

Maria Sharapova made herself available for Fed Cup for the first time ever in this round, although she ultimately withdrew herself from consideration. Given the question marks around both her and Serena -- and the chances that both will go deep into the draw at Wimbledon the week before -- the prospect of a Serenapova rematch under national colors is probably slim. But Russia has the depth to field a great team without her, so Garrison has every incentive to try to gather the same group in three months' time.

Compare and contrast: Attending Davis Cup and Fed Cup competitions on almost back-to-back weekends makes the Fed Cup format seem overly compressed. Playing five matches over two days on one court is fine if they're short matches (which Sunday's King-Flipkens match wasn't) and start early (play began at close to 3 p.m. on both days).

Doubles is played last of the five matches under Fed Cup rules and was decidedly an afterthought in all four quarterfinals this time around -- each one was a 5-0 sweep -- which is also a pity, since it seems fitting that doubles should carry more relevance in a team competition. From the U.S. standpoint, the men's format (the doubles match is the third match played) offered an opportunity to showcase the world's No. 1 team; Raymond didn't get the same stage. The most glaring absence at both competitions was the nonuse of electronic line-calling technology.

Next up: USTA officials floated their candidate locations for the semifinal tilt against Russia; Stowe, Vt., apparently has the edge over Indianapolis and Hawaii.

Speaking of Serenapova: Our Belgian colleague Bart Fieremans of the Het Laaste Nieuws newspaper kindly translated an exchange that occurred during the Flemish-speaking portion of his interview with Caroline Maes. Fieremans asked the 24-year-old after her 6-1, 6-4 loss to Serena Williams whether she was aware she had won more games against Williams than Sharapova had managed to win in the Australian Open final.

According to Fieremans, Maes responded, "I won as many games off Serena as Sharapova did in the Australian Open and Miami combined." You could look it up. Maes apparently did.

Breakthrough: Donald Young has been on a hot streak since he spent a positive week as a practice partner for the U.S. Davis Cup team in Winston-Salem, N.C., earlier this month. The week after the U.S. team advanced against Spain, the 17-year-old lefty reached the quarterfinals of a Challenger event in Valencia, Calif., and last weekend he won his first pro singles title -- a $15,000 USTA Futures event in Little Rock, Ark.

Unseeded and ranked No. 484, Young was granted a wild card into the tournament and marched to the final against Kei Nishikori of Japan, who gained a small measure of fame by serving as one of Roger Federer's hitting partners last month in Key Biscayne. Young made short work of Nishikori, winning 6-2, 6-2 the day after he and Nishikori teamed up to win the doubles title over Brendan Evans and Brian Wilson.

Young is now 7-1 on the USTA Pro Circuit since his stint with the Davis Cup team.

Bonnie DeSimone is a freelancer who contributes frequently to ESPN.com.

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