Tennis

Doubles partners face each other in singles

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NEW YORK (AP)

Normally, when Vania King and Yaroslava Shvedova are on the tennis court together, it's them against the world.

On Tuesday, it was friend vs. friend.

The 2010 Wimbledon and U.S. Open doubles champions got the worst of all conceivable singles draws at Flushing Meadows this year, forced to play each other in the first round.

Shvedova won 6-4, 6-2. Her reaction afterward said it all.

''It was horrible,'' she said.

Seeded fifth this year at the U.S. Open, they aren't the first doubles partners forced to play face each other in singles. There was a time, for instance, when Venus and Serena Williams made a habit of it, with much more at stake than a trip to the second round.

But the fact that King and Shvedova have come so far together - to say nothing of the fact that they're in that rare group of women who make 20-30 percent of their prize money playing doubles - made this matchup all the more poignant - and uncomfortable.

''We've laughed together and cried together and had some very good times together,'' King said.

They met as teenagers on the tennis circuit, both traveling with their fathers and looking for a friendly face and someone to talk to about life on the road with dad. The bond was formed and not long after, a very good doubles team developed, as well.

They have four titles together, including Wimbledon and the U.S. Open two years ago. Last year, they returned to the final at Flushing Meadows but lost in a third-set tiebreaker.

So far in 2012, Shvedova is grabbing more headlines than her partner in singles. She's ranked 45th and made it to the quarterfinals of the French Open. Then, at Wimbledon, she became the first woman in 44 years of professional tennis to win a ''golden set'' - six straight games without dropping a point.

King, ranked 52nd, said both players always knew this sort of meeting could come up. They had never played each other as pros, though they certainly know each other inside and out.

''I know where she's going to go here, where she's going to go there,'' King said. ''But can I run that ball down? No, I couldn't, because she hit it too fast. Even if you know the person like the palm of your hand, it doesn't mean you're going to win.''

Both players conceded they couldn't wait for the meeting on Court 11 to be over. Beforehand, they made a little side bet. Winner - not loser - had to buy the drinks the next time they're out on the town.

King lost the match, won the bet.

''I said, `Sorry, Vania,''' Shvedova said of their brief conversation at the net when it was over. ''She told me it was a very hard match to play and I told her it was exactly the same for me.''

Both players admitted they nearly cried at the end.

But there's no more need for tears. On Wednesday, the next time they walk on the court together, they'll be a doubles team again.

''It's not easy to play against your friend,'' King said. ''But your personality is tested when you're under pressure like this. And our friendship gets stronger because of something like this.''

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