Ok, here’s the thing. I get a call from Vince today. I tell him about my rotator cuff operation, my left arm in a sling, and he says in his cowboy voice, “Dang, after 25 years of tennis my arm feels great.” That’s Spadea, for you, rubbing it in, but at the same time, honestly concerned about my shoulder. Asking me if I really needed the surgery because for a guy who played 21 years on the tour (1991-2011) and never had any surgery, letting a doctor cut you up doesn’t sound wise. I have my reservations, too.
So we start talking tennis. I tell Vince I saw Sampras-Agassi play in a Legends final last month from Los Angeles and neither looked too good. Agassi’s movement is severely hindered even though he’s only a few years past his last year on tour. Sampras pulled a leg muscle and looked sluggish.
Vince told me he won the Pro-Am doubles event in West Palm Beach a few months ago and beat Brad Gilbert 9 games to none. I said, “Well, isn’t it how good your opponent is, too?” And Vince said, “Yes, but it’s mostly the pros going against each other” and Vince took out Brad. Then he said that even though Jan-Michael Gambill is playing every day and played WTT singles this summer and is in great shape, Vince beat him in some kind of match recently and JMG was pissed.
Then Vince says, “What do you think if I made a comeback at 38?” I said, “If you made a serious comeback and actually got to the finals of a Challenger even, I think it would be a great story.”
“I’ve been thinking about it,” he says. “I hit the ball as well now as I ever have. I’m 188-pounds, less than I was my last two years on tour. I haven’t made a comeback because I wanted to wait until I was 37-38 when if I got back into the Top-100 it might be a good story.”
Spadea was still in the Top 100 in June 2009, one month short of his 35th birthday. Without going further than Santoro and Agassi, it’s hard to name another player in the past 20 years who was ranked this high well-into-his-30’s. He did drop precipitously after that, but I thought he just checked out and mentally and physically and stopped training and caring.
Vince doesn’t miss anything about today’s tour. He knows Jesse Levine, who just won the American wild card event for the Aussie Open, was ranked in the 700’s until he won three Challengers late this year. He also knows that in late-2009, Vince beat Levine 6-2 in the first set of a Challenger match.
I start laughing when Vince starts waxing about what it takes to come back. Not just the training in the high heat of Florida, and not just the financial hit he’d likely take, but going to some European country and getting on the bus with kids half your age. The slog of pro tennis. But what a story it would be if Vince, at 38, made it back into even the Top 200. Very few believed in his chances when he was 16 making his first forays onto the tour. Nobody believes in him now.
But what if Vince put in the work, became Spadea Ain’t Afraid A Ya once more, and used all his veteran guile to pluck off the Levine’s, Kudla’s and Sock’s of the USTA’s pipeline?
Anybody out there think Vince can do it? Comebacks where a player who was once Top 20 returns in his mid-30’s-to-early-40’s after a few years away from the tour (think Borg to Agenor, who was once ranked No. 22, to Muster) have been downright ugly. Can Vince turn back the clock? Does he dare try?