Tennis Week – Apr 26, 2003 – Richard Evans – Surviving the equinox, which brought its usual mixture of wind, sun and ultimately rain to these Mediterranean shores, Juan Carlos Ferrero took another step towards establishing himself as the premier clay court player of his era by retaining his Tennis Masters Series title at Monte Carlo with a blistering 6-2, 6-2 defeat of Argentina’s Guillermo Coria in the final.

Ferrero deserved the spotlight, which he fills in such understated fashion, but he was not the only headline-maker during an interesting tennis that celebrated the 75th anniversary of the Monte Carlo Country Club, surely the most spectacular setting for tennis. There was unheralded Italian Filippo Volandri, a qualifier with a lovely one-handed backhand, who reached the quarterfinals without dropping a set; Rafael Nadal, yet another Spaniard, but this time a left-handed 16-year-old prodigy who blasts down-the-line winners off his forehand like its child’s play; and a more mature performer re-establishing himself after years in the doldrums, Vince Spadea.

Spadea has become one of the great stories of the year so far. Only the second player, with Moya, to have made it to two Masters Series semifinals this year, Spadea has moved into the No. 10 spot on the ATP Champions Race for Houston, and has improved his Entry Ranking to No. 31 after finishing 2002 at No. 67. Spadea’s ranking graph is, of course, quite familiar with sudden and seemingly inexplicable movement. He had been a member of the world’s Top 100 for six straight years while he hit a high of No. 19 in September 1999, finishing the year just one place lower. The year earned him $605,600, and the 1992 Orange Bowl champion finally seemed set to fulfill his potential.

Then came the plunge. Spadea managed to lose 17 consecutive matches in 2000, a streak broken only when he upset a half fit Greg Rusedski on No. 1 Court at Wimbledon. It was a temporary reprieve. He finished the year 209 places lower than he had started it, which is free fall on a grand scale. With money in the bank, some might have quit. But Spadea shares Andre Agassi’s ability to look adversity in the eye and take it on head first.

“I never thought about stopping, he said after beating Volandri. But unless you really focus and commit, you will end up just playing challengers. And the challenger circuit is very underrated. Its challenging!

Spadea, who carries a serious demeanor on the tour, smiled. He has never had his father’s extrovert personality. Vincent Sr. is an opera singer, an entertainer who will take over the piano in a hotel bar and fill it with song. He also coaches his son, but so, too, does Pete Samprass old mentor, Pete Fischer, who Spadea credits with improving vital aspects of his game.

But you need more than a coach to drag yourself back from No. 229 in the world. The commitment has to be huge. After five star hotels and courtesy cars at every stop, Spadea was driving himself from tournament to tournament. Small towns in Texas and Missouri, basic accommodation. No ball boys.

it was a very humbling experience, he said. “And scary, you know, because it’s fearful when you are on the brink of real success to slide down so far.
Agassi will know exactly what Spadea is talking about, and although Spadea has never reached Andre’s heights, he should be congratulated on the recovery he has made. After his semifinal showing at Indian Wells, where it took Lleyton Hewitt to stop him, Spadea made short work of Russia’s Davis Cup hero Mikhail Youzhny, 6-1, 6-2, in the first round; tamed Arnaud Clement on a wind-strewn Centre Court after losing the first set; dropped another opening set to Croatia’s powerful Ivan Ljubicic, but squeaked the third set tie-break 8-6; and then proved far too smooth and experienced for Volandri in the quarters.

Spadea was philosophical after being outplayed 6-3, 6-4 by Ferrero. There were 11 breaks of serve in 19 games, and Spadea was not particularly surprised. The court was probably the heaviest it has been all week, he said. Any serve, no matter the pace or the placement, was returnable, and we both have pretty good returns. It wasnt a serving match or a serving court, for that matter.

But Spadea will take heart from another great week, and before he left he talked some more about what it took to resurrect his career. I made some phone calls to people I believed in, as I wanted to see what they felt about me. People like Pete Fischer. But also Dr. John Murray, a neighbor in Florida. He has a book out; its called Smart Tennis. He was helping some Olympic athletes at the time. You read about athletes looking into the mental side. Not just people with problems, but people like Tiger Woods. So I felt that was a good option to try. And I started traveling with some coaches who were young and hungry. It was important for me to get with people who were passionate and hungry because I had been eight years on the tour and I needed people to help me with energy as well.
They obviously helped and it will be fascinating to see how far Spadea can climb on his return trip to the top.