A Vince Spadea Comeback!?

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?


  • Andrew Miller · December 21, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Spadea would be better than Muster’s comeback – probably because Spadea has a bigger serve and better movement, both of them huge for today’s game. Spadea also stays in the rally, which frustrates players. His backhand is still among the world’s best – even after retiring.

    Why not top 200?

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 21, 2011 at 2:05 am

    He can do it. I don’t think Vince ever got himself into Agassi shape, ate smartly, cut out the bad foods and just lived a super totally strict life of a tennis gladiator, going to Starbucks and Cheesecake Factory doesn’t cut it. And do the Dan Markowitz Bikram Yoga five days a week, on top of the court and fitness work, plyometrics, etc. Did Vince ever really change his fitness routine? Did he ever get in Moo Man animal type shape? I think it would take him to a whole new level. One more shot, Spadeabalboa, one more shot, go for it, he can do it.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 21, 2011 at 2:35 am

    Great picture of Vince, Scoop. Where did you shoot it? It looks like you came upon him playing in a public park somewhere.

    I think V feels that to kill himself to get in great killer shape would take too much out of him. But I agree, if he comes back, he should start training now and train for three straight months and return at the end of Feb. to play his, basically, hometown tournament, where he’s reached the finals at least once, I believe, Delray Beach, Feb. 21. He played his last match on the ATP tour there a couple of years ago and actually was hitting toe to toe with Giraldo for the first four games and then wilted in the heat.

    We’ll see. I think Vince is somewhat serious.

  • Andrew Miller · December 21, 2011 at 5:19 am

    One huge thing going for Vince: today’s game is for smart players – who know the tempo of a match and how things can change on a dime, and how to use crowds and points to win. Knowledge – of court conditions and speeds, balls, racquets, and the game itself – benefits players these days, and Vince has probably seen it all. If he stayed top 100 through 2009 then he certainly was there for all of the changes in court condition. A year ago, tons of older players were in the top 50, with players like “The Worm” were, and still are, tripping up young players through their knowledge of the game.

    So yeah, I mean probably the best thing to do would be to dare Vince to do it. Agassi took a dare and was motivated by bets. So even though I am an armchair warrior, here’s to throwing the hat in the ring.

    Vince, I dare you to make the top 200 in 2012.

  • Mike · December 21, 2011 at 5:35 am

    “Anybody out there think Vince can do it?”

  • Mike · December 21, 2011 at 5:36 am

    On the other hand, if I’m feeling blue all I have to do is open my web browser here:

    So I say do it Vince. And have no regrets.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 21, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    I do love that you-tube video of Vince playing his last match at the Open, double-faulting to lose the match. Then the camera follows him to the sideline where no one is there to greet him. He stuffs up his racquet bag and walks off the side court totally unnoticed. Like he’d never played a single Main Draw at the Open.

    Here’s my favorite Vince You-Tube video, though.

    I think with Vince a lot of it comes down to how fit and slim he can get. He’s clearly a different player when he’s closer to 180 than he is to 200. And this is a guy who unlike me when I’m healthy, doesn’t get up every morning these days and takes a yoga class or goes out to find a hit. He’s not a guy who works out anymore really, as much as I know. That’s why when he beats guys like Gilbert and Jan-Michael Gambill, who both stay super fit (and Gambill’s actually three years younger than Vince), I think he takes special pride in it and he says, “Dang, what would happen if I got back the eye of the tiger and trained?”

    Now that’s a far way off from actually putting in the hard work and making a commitment to going out and slogging for a year and maybe by the time he’s 38-39, if all goes right, he’s the new Jimmy Connors with a rapper’s blunt.

    We’ll see…I think he’s actually thinking about it.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 21, 2011 at 3:07 pm

    The photo is from his facebook page, that backhand looks so aesthetically world class, so technically sound, even through a chain link fence. A work of art. Vince can get into iron man shape, look at Bernard Hopkins at 46 in boxing, Vitali Klitschko in boxing. These are two machines who make all the sacrifices and don’t eat garbage even between training camps. Vince doesn’t have that discipline based on what I heard from him and you. If he had that kind of discipline, this comeback idea is very interesting. If it’s the same old Vince trying to rely on his natural talent and average fitness, forget about it, it’s just a waste of time.

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 21, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Great video Michael. Such a profound moment, the last time for Vince on a major court, after all the years, nobody there to comfort him at the funeral of his excellent career. I remember being there and feeling so sad for Vince, nothing to say at that moment. It was all over.

  • Harold · December 21, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    You always explain Spadeas results as if they play one set matches. “He beat Levine 6-2, yes but it obviously was 2 out of 3 and Vince couldnt win a 3 set match 3 years ago, is he going to start doing it now?
    Spadea needs a “story” so maybe he can hook up on the Seniors, and make a few dollars. Otherwise he doesnt rate getting on the seniors tour and has to win pro -ams and dream about going back to possibly winning a challenger..Move on Vince, grab a top junior and teach him or her about the tour and coach, if you still think youre smarter than everybody…

  • Scoop Malinowski · December 21, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Very good observation Harold! Dan always does that. But in Vince’s last great Slam run he won two five setters vs. I believe Gremelmayr and Stepanek before losing to Ferrer in Melbourne, so that shows Vince can get into tremendous condition. Those were two amazing wins for Vince. just amazing. That had to be in 2008, right around there.

  • Dan markowitz · December 21, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    Vince isn’t going to coach a player on tour. That’s not his spiel. He’s mulling over now whether he’s ready to play again. That he could take a set off Levine at 35 and out of shape indicates he may be able to make a valid comeback.
    I don’t think he will. He’s had some success being an agent for actors, and he was getting in Futures last time he played. I dont think he’s that impressed with what’s out there, though. Apparently, he held his own against Djoko in practice before the 2010 Open. Athletes always think back to their primes and I think Vince feels he has one more bark in him.

  • Andrew Miller · December 22, 2011 at 5:17 am

    Sheesh. Vince can’t leave the pro tour on that note in 2009. I just watched the video posted of the 2009 US Open. It was very sad.

    Vince man: please. The sport needs you to crack the top 200 again – just to show it can be done. The world needs a 2nd book from Vince – again, on Vince, tennis and how tennis is in 2012.

    I am totally serious. Vince can’t end on a double fault. Can’t. Can’t end on a double fault!

  • Andrew Miller · December 22, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Spadea had one of the game’s best two handed backhands. Rios, Safin, Spadea – pretty much it. Smoother than Djokovic.

  • Dan Markowitz · December 22, 2011 at 11:20 am

    Djokovic asked Vince how he hit his backhand when they practiced together. And the double fault now withstanding, he was asking Vince about hitting the second serve. I think it would be a great story. The old veteran, Rocky-esque, goes back into the trenches to fight his way back up the rankings. Still, even Vince has to eat his PF Changs and swill his Starbucks and he knows a venture like trying out the tour again would cost him some of his beloved bucks.

  • Rob · January 17, 2012 at 10:55 pm

    I think Vince is one of the most entertaining players I can think of because he has such a great sense of humor.

    Not only does he play well, but he gets you laughing. He entertains on two fronts. Tennis and humor. Twice the fun. Like putting chocolate sauce on vanilla ice cream.

    Would love to see him make a comeback. He belongs in front of the cameras, whether it’s playing or announcing.




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