Tennis Prose



Former Boxing Champ Vaden Has Deep Respect and Admiration for Tennis

By Scoop Malinowski

Tennis observers speculate about the similarities of boxing and tennis but rarely do we get to hear the perspective of tennis from a former boxing champion. It’s hard to find an accomplished boxer who has followed and played tennis for a lifetime but has got the scoop (pun intended).

Long time friend since we first did a Biofile interview back in 1995 for Boxing Flash newsletter, Paul “The Ultimate” Vaden was once the IBF Light Middleweight champion in 1995 after defeating Vincent Pettway by a TKO in the final 12th round at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

As the only native of San Diego to become a boxing world champion, Vaden was also exposed to tennis from a young age. It was love at first site as Vaden embraced the sport of grace at the age of nine after seeing Jimmy Connors play on TV in 1977. Vaden, who retired with a professional record of 29-3 and is now a corporate mentor and motivational speaker, shares his observations and insights about tennis…

Question: How did you get into tennis?

Paul Vaden: In 1977 I saw Jimmy Connors play against Harold Solomon in a hard court match on TV. This was back in the WCT days. I was instantly drawn to his game and how he played to the crowd during a match. Connors became the reason I fell in love with the sport. He was my all time favorite. I can still remember how elated I was when he won Wimbledon in 1982 after an 8 year drought. He would follow up winning the US Open that same year. He would repeat winning the Open in 1983 both times over Ivan Lendl. However, he was upset in the 4th round of Wimbledon in 1983 by South African Kevin Curren. I would get to know the other players on the men’s circuit. And then start following the Women’s circuit with the Martina and Chris Evert rivalry. Today I follow the women’s tour much more. Serena is probably my second favorite athlete today after LeBron.

Question: How often do you play?

Paul Vaden: Not enough. A few times a month. I remember a few years ago my ex girlfriend’s two children used to take lessons regularly each week. And I LOVED coming to watch them practice and improve. But two things: my business schedule is too demanding and I love playing full court basketball with my crew far too much. So, in order to be more active I’d have to surrender something.

Question: As a former world champion in boxing, do the same qualities that helped you become world champion also help a tennis player become a champion in your mind? What qualities?

Paul Vaden: Absolutely. Discipline, abilities adapting to various styles, remaining positive in the trenches, endurance, eye hand coordination, tunnel vision.

Question: Did boxing help you be a good tennis player?

Paul Vaden: I respect the sport far too much to deem myself good. However, I do carry some pretty significant attributes being that I have extremely quick fast twitch muscles, I can run down almost anything, volley consistently and my endurance is endless. I play tennis similar to the way I boxed more about being patient, quick-handed, consistent, strategic, in tremendous shape and extremely focused. Where power isn’t my forte. But I dig the deep waters of everything. Because you find out a lot about people during those tides in athletics and life.

Question: What are the strengths of your tennis game? Weaknesses?

Paul Vaden: Strengths: Return of service, speed and endurance. Weaknesses: Serve and backhand.

Question: What racquet do you use?

Paul Vaden: Prince Phantom Pro 100.

Question: Have you ever entered a tennis tournament? What happened if so?

Paul Vaden: Never entered a tourney before. I’m not worthy. I just have a deep appreciation and respect for the sport and the smorgasbord of talent.

Question: Which tennis players do you like to watch?

Paul Vaden: Back in the day, Mens’… Connors and eventually Andre Agassi. Both were incredible with return of serve and they fed off the crowd and vice versa, Womens’… Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert, Steffi Graf. Today… Women’s: Serena and Venus Williams, Coco Vandeweghe, Men’s: Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer.

Question: Which pro boxers do you think could have been very good pro tennis players? Which tennis players do you think could have been a boxing champion?

Paul Vaden: I have to be completely honest. I can’t think of a boxer that could’ve been a competent tennis player on the pro tour. And tennis player becoming a champion boxer. That one really wouldn’t happen. I always crack up when someone sees an incredible and tough athlete in a sport and they suggest he’d be a good boxer. Would never come close to happening.

Question: Why could it never happen?

Paul Vaden: You “play” tennis, basketball, football, soccer, baseball, golf, etc. You “don’t play” boxing. There are dangerous consequences that take place off technical mistakes or exhaustion that you don’t receive the luxury of calling time-out to regroup. You live from bell to bell. It can be a physically and mentally overwhelming experience. And as I previously stated, don’t forget about the consequences if you aren’t on par. One other thing: an experienced boxer is not only going to know the correct combinations to hit you with successfully but they’ll also intuitively know the selection of punches that will come back at them. In fact, they can force you to throw or do novice actions without your permission. I’ve never watched exceptional athletes like Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Lebron James or others and thought to myself that they could have been good boxers let alone world champions. There are levels to this. So, I laugh to myself whenever someone brings up that observation.

Question: Bobby Czyz, the former world champion boxer from New Jersey once told me he met the New York Giants superstar linebacker Lawrence Taylor at a sports function back in the 1980s and Bobby said “LT” told him, “Bobby, I could never do what you do.”

Paul Vaden: LT is correct.

Question: Who are you picking for the US Open?

Paul Vaden: Women’s – It’s time for Serena to capture her record tying Grand Slam title number 24. And her first as a mom. Men’s – Rafa Nadal.

Question: Did you ever meet any pro tennis players? When, where?

Paul Vaden: Met Venus twice in 2000 and 2002 at the Acura Classic at the La Costa Resort here in San Diego. Jim Courier in Vegas at the MGM.

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  • Sam · August 16, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    Which one of you guys is SuperG over at menstennisforums dot com?

    I was about to reply to a message by SuperG there, but I think he got banned during the time I was actually composing the message! It’s crazy the way they banned him over there.

    I did save the message I was composing, though. Thanks for any info.

  • Jon · August 17, 2018 at 1:06 am

    You would have never thought that a former World Boxing Champion who competed at the highest level in his sport would be a not only a fan of tennis but a real aficionado. He respectfully and humbly gives insight into a sport that could not be further removed from the sport he became great in. He even has a specific tennis racquet he uses when he plays and believes that some of the same qualities that helped him become World Champion, like, discipline, adaptation, endurance and tunnel vision can also be applied to tennis. There is one point that stands out to me though when asked to compare tennis or any other sports to Boxing. Paul said, “ You play tennis, basketball, soccer etc., You don’t play Boxing.” Well stated!

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 17, 2018 at 8:36 am

    Jon, it’s interesting that Jimmy Connors had such a magnetism to connect to a 9 year old kid and make him a fan of the sport for life. And then Paul actually became a champion in another one on one sport. Paul really articulates the connection of boxing and tennis in ways only a champion boxer could.

  • Doug Day · August 17, 2018 at 10:08 am

    Ali affected “play” in his boxing style before parkinsons won the race. Paul knows that tennis players shots also are designed to yeild certian replys and without permission. Am i splitting hairs Scoop?

  • Scoop Malinowski · August 17, 2018 at 11:29 am

    Well said Doug. You wonder if Paul had been lucky to be able to play tennis at age 9 and get good coaching through childhood, would he have been able to become a pro or at least NCAA player? I think with his mind, body, speed and love for the game he could have prospered in tennis.



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