Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sixteen-year veteran Spadea chats with DOWN THE TEE about life on ATP Tour

No matter how you want to perceive the longevity of the 16-year career of pro tennis player Vince Spadea, it’s been successful based on hardwork, dedication and lots of determination. While many suggest it’s time for Spadea to hang up the racquets and pursue another career, the former Top 20 player feels there is plenty more to accomplish on the ATP Tour.

Born in Chicago to Hilda and Vincent Sr., the Spadea family eventually relocated to their current hometown of Boca Raton, Fla., so Vince and his two sisters could pursue tennis more vigorously. In the competitive world of junior tennis, Spadea quickly joined the upper echelon of players, showing signs he could take his tennis game to the next level. After winning the
prestigious Junior Orange Bowl International Tennis Championships in 1992 and finishing the year ranked No. 4 in the ITF World Rankings, Spadea turned professional in 1993.

Spadea showed promise early on in his professional career, finishing the 1994 and 1995 seasons as the youngest American in the Top 100. In 1999, Spadea beat Andre Agassi in the 4th round of the Australian Open en route to a quarterfinal performance. Other noteworthy performances that year included a victory over Roger Federer at the Masters Series
Monte Carlo, winning the second set, 6-0. To this day, Federer has only lost three sets at love in his illustrious career.

Despite a very stable career throughout the 1990s, most athletes eventually suffer a bad moment in their career, Spadea was soon to experience that act. In 2000, Spadea hit rock bottom, setting an ATP-record by losing his 21st-straight match before defeating Greg Rusedski in five sets at Wimbledon. Deciding to rededicate himself to all aspects of tennis, on and off the court, Spadea played challenger tournament after challenger tournament, aiming to raise his ranking. All the hard work eventually paid off in 2004 when he defeated Nicolas Kiefer to capture his first career ATP singles title at the Franklin Templeton Tennis Classic.

The 34-year-old is still grinding on the ATP Tour and recently finished in the Top 100 for the 13th time in 15 seasons. In his 2008 campaign, Spadea reached the semifinals in Newport, quarterfinals in Adelaide and Nottingham, and advanced to the 3rd round at the Australian Open after two five-set thrillers in his first two matches. He also won two challenger tournaments at the end of the season.

Throughout his lengthy career, Spadea has appeared in 52 grand slam tournaments as a singles player, has represented the USA in Davis Cup and in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics and has earned about $4.9 million in prize money. In addition to the aforementioned victories over Agassi and Federer, he has also defeated Pete Sampras, Rafael Nadal, Jim Courier, Gustavo Kuerten, Michael Chang, Patrick Rafter, and Andy Roddick. To date, Spadea has won 309 career matches, one ATP-level singles title, three doubles titles and eight challenger tournaments. Spadea, currently ranked No. 81 in the World, spends time training in Los Angeles, as well as in Boca Raton. Next week in Melbourne, Spadea will start his 2009 season by playing in his 12th Australian Open.

Q & A with Vince Spadea

You have spent much of your career ranked inside the Top 50, what does it take for a pro to consistently be ranked in the Top 50, let alone the Top 100?

VS: Having been ranked in the top hundred consistently has not been easy at all, and being in the Top 50 is another level that needs to be done carefully, strategically, and physically. I think the basic factors are that improving shots, being passionate about the game, and mentally rising to every match—regardless of who you're beating or losing to—allows you to reach your optimal level all the time. I think the most difficult step in tennis is to go from (the Top) 200 to 100. From 100 to 50 is also very difficult. I enjoy going to the gym, I stay in shape and I try to be fitter, faster and get my game ready and sharp to play every opponent no matter the circumstances, the surface, or the score. I play every match as if I'm trying to carry out the dream that got me there in the first place. It inspires me to continue on and rise above all the young, talented, up and coming players. Fitness is a huge part of this element, especially when you go from 100 to 50, and I love doing it. That's what makes it consistent.

Having the perfect diet is a must for players to compete at the highest level. What is your diet like?

VS: I've worked with two nutritionists over the course of my career and they have helped me a huge amount, knowing what to eat and when to eat it. My diet plan consists of five smaller meals per day. It includes proteins, dairy, fruit, and carbohydrates. I take an over-the-counter multivitamin and drink lots of water per day. I personally enjoy pasta, chicken, cereals, and orange juice, and I can't get away from having my occasional Starbucks latte. Eating every two to three hours keeps my energy at an even flow. I'm never too hungry or too full. But I enjoy eating throughout the day, the right energy foods, and once a week I have “garbage day.” Garbage day I can obviously eat whatever I want in moderation.

DOWN THE TEE: I noticed in your book and on You Tube that you are a big fan of Starbucks, how often are you able to go there?

VS: I love Starbucks! Not only do I like the variety and creativity of the drinks, but the atmosphere, the ambience and friendly environment allows me to have a relaxing, yet pick me up moment, throughout my day. I travel so much that it's difficult to see the same places every day besides McDonald's. Starbucks creates a warm environment; the couches, music and Internet availability seduce me every day that I can get there.

It seems that life on the ATP Tour might get pretty lonely at times, since you are always traveling and rarely spend time at home with family and friends. What is your perspective on the life as a professional tennis player?

VS: Life on the pro circuit can be lonely. This is true. Sometimes you feel like you've been put in isolation because of the travel and distances from your normal and homely environments. At the same time, it's an opportunity to experience new cultures, new ambitions, and irreplaceable memories that I can speak and write about for the rest of my life. I've grown to learn to enjoy the times of struggle and solitude, even if it's just sitting in my hotel room trying to accomplish something else on my laptop, reading a book, or watching a movie.

DOWN THE TEE: Your book "Break Point: The Secret Diary of a Pro Tennis Player," sheds light on what's going on "behind the scenes" in tennis. What led you to writing that book and now your soon-to-be-released second book, "The Greatest Comeback"?

VS: It was a very interesting experience to write my first book Break Point. I did shed some light on the behind-the-scenes life of the pro tennis circuit. I put a lot of effort into the writing, and describing what I feel like, and what I see in the game and my life. I like trying to give the fan a different concept and angle on what you would normally read in another book on the stand about tennis. It was honest, and it was unique. Sometimes honesty is unique and that's what I was trying to point out. As far as the other projects I have in the works, I don't have a lot to talk about right now until it gets closer to doing so.

DOWN THE TEE: What have you enjoyed most about your professional career? What, if you could, would you change about your career?

VS: The biggest thing I enjoy about my professional career is knowing that people appreciate the love and dedication that you put into your job. Tennis players sacrifice many countless hours to become that precise and skilled athlete, fighting to be the best in a certain trade, and sometimes we forget why we do it. Even though the money is there, we still forget. Even though the fame and the rankings are there, we still forget. But when you're walking on the Center Court or shaking the hand of the top-ranked opponent that you've just beaten or played even closely, the fans let you know why and remind you that all the repetitions were worth it. There's nothing better than to impact someone's life for even a second, a smile, or lifetime.

DOWN THE TEE: In your mind, what has been your biggest win during your career and why?

VS: In my mind, my biggest win has been against Andre Agassi at the 1999 Australian Open. Andre was an idol of mine as I grew up playing tennis. He was the rebel, living a rock star life, and a top ranked tennis player since the age of 18. To beat him in a Grand Slam during his prime, and doing it on Center Court at Rod Laver Arena, it didn't get much better than that in my career.

DOWN THE TEE: If you weren't playing on the ATP Tour, what would you be doing today?

VS: If I wasn't playing on the ATP tour today, I probably would like to be in the stock market, figuring out how to invest and when to invest. I like trying to solve puzzles and problems and using numbers and creative ways of doing it my own way. I think that world would allow me that freedom and the opportunity for pressure like tennis does.

DOWN THE TEE: As a 34-year-old pro tennis player with wins over the likes of Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal what continues to drive you to travel the world and still compete at the highest-level?

VS: Even though I've beaten all those players at different times of my long career, I still feel the urge to compete and succeed. I believe I can win, that's why I'm out here. I still want to rekindle some of that magic that got me in the circles of beating the best and being one of the Top 20 best.

DOWN THE TEE: How much longer do you see yourself competing on the ATP Tour? What are your ambitions or aspirations for whenever you do decide to retire? Would you consider TV commentary?

VS: It's difficult to put a time frame on it. I would say (a) two to three year range; might be more, maybe less. Even though I am 34, I still feel young, act young, and explore ways to rejuvenate my mind and body. There are success stories in different sports that are more straining than tennis at older ages than (mine). But not looking at anyone as competition, I feel this is my own journey to seek out and enjoy. I will let the chips fall where they may and work my butt off while I do it until I can't do it or until I don't feel like doing it.

DOWN THE TEE: Many of your fans love hearing your freestyle rap, so should we be looking for a Spadea rap CD in the near future? Can you drop a rap about the DOWN THE TEE tennis blog?

VS: I enjoy rapping and rhyming, and I'm glad people out there have seen the fun and diversity of it. It's about being yourself and that's just a part of me, a part of my enjoyment when I'm not hitting tennis shots.

Vince Spadea raps about DOWN THE TEE!

Spadea does want to say thanks to DOWN THE TEE,
hopefully people will see that I'm just not a wannabe.
I just wanna be free and playing tennis is me,
that's the key to playing past 33.
Hopefully the readers from DOWN THE TEE and me,
can sit at Starbucks and grab a tea and coffee.
Because we got nobody to please, just one day at a time is my Creedand when I look in the mirror...I believe.


Linda Mattos said...

Love it!!! Nicely done to JC and Vince alike! ;)

Neil said...

You the man! Get me in with Spadea so we can go after the stock market together

Anonymous said...

Great Job Justin! Keep Up the Good work at Down The Tee!


Andrew said...

Well done Cohen! I always am impressed with your work.

Anonymous said...

nice have great connections

Tom said...

Spadea is a true role model and I hope he keeps the dream alive!

Joanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanne said...

Wow what a great and honest insight from Vince! Great questions Justin!

seth srader said...

Great article... Spadea is example of a man that loves his sport and won't let the dream die..