Tennis Week – Dec 21, 2005 – Richard Pagliaro – He may be the only man in tennis to party with John McEnroe, double date with Andy Roddick, question James Blake’s sportsmanship, spend a wild weekend in Vegas with Andre Agassi and bounce back from a record 21-match losing streak to produce the best tennis of his life. Vince Spadea has endured more highs and lows than a limbo contest between Ivo Karlovic and Mini Me.
He has played with and against the top players of the past decade Ã¢â‚¬â€? both on and off the court Ã¢â‚¬â€? and now the 31-year-old Spadea is your tour guide on a behind-the-scenes trip detailing life on the ATP Tour that he calls “a roller coaster ride.”
The veteran Spadea has collaborated with Tennis Week contributing writer and noted New York teaching pro Dan Markowitz (Tennis Week.com message board readers know him by the pseudonym Redhead) to write a behind-the-scenes look at life on the ATP Tour. Titled “Break Point: The Secret Diary Of A Pro Tennis Player”, the book will be released in either the spring or early summer of 2006. It’s a glimpse of life outside the lines featuring the competitors, coaches, characters and committed groupies populating the tennis landscape.
“My own intention, was to tell the truth and be brutally honest and show who I am,” Spadea says. “It’s a hard, tough life being a professional tennis player. I’ve met a lot of great players and great people. I’m telling you these stories through my eyes as a real guy who has lived this. You just don’t know how it will be received. Hopefully, it’s going to be a great thing for tennis and kind of transcend the tennis world and not just be what it’s like to be a tennis player, but show the story of an interesting character who can tell a story truthfully, win tennis matches, lose tennis matches and bleed just the way you bleed.”
The strong-willed Spadea has spent his career saying, rapping and achieving the unthinkable. Rebounding from a record 21-match losing streak that saw his 2000 year-end ranking plummet to No. 229, Spadea made a strong comeback. In 2004, Spadea claimed his first ATP title in his 223rd career tournament in Scottsdale, posted a personal best 40-win season and concluded the season ranked a year-end best No. 19.
Currently ranked No. 76, Spadea is now working with former Wimbledon winner and Beverly Hills Hotel teaching pro Alex Olmedo in training for the 2006 season.
Spadea and Markowitz, who have known each other for years, came up with the concept of collaborating on a diary-style, behind-the-scenes book shortly after discussing the idea of writing a book during the 2004 U.S. Open. The book chronicles Spadea’s experiences living life on the ATP Tour and provides readers with an all-access pass to the court, the locker room, practice sessions and player parties.
“It does something never done by any tennis book that I’ve ever read: It depicts the modern professional player dealing with all the aspects of life on the circuit: winning and losing, training, hiring and firing coaches, traveling around the world, women, tennis parents, locker room humor, umpires, and steroids,” Markowitz says. “But more than anything else, it deals with the personalities in the game as seen through Spadea’s eyes, a somewhat recluse on the tour, who closely evaluates the games and psyches of his fellow players. In 13 years on the tour, he’s played them all and intimately knows his competitor’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Some of the most intriguing anecdotal incidents the book details, according to its authors, include:
James Blake Ã¢â‚¬â€? Spadea, who has won seven of 10 meetings with Blake, recalls one clash with his rival in which Blake took time during a changeover to accuse Spadea of resorting to gamesmanship in trying to break his momentum by taking a bathroom break. Spadea, who has scored five straight wins over the Yonkers, N.Y. native, blasts Blake as a “bad sport” after the match. In another Blake-related anecdote that intensified the tension between the two, Spadea details the former Harvard all American stealing away a model Spadea brought to a players’ party while Spadea visited the bathroom.
Andy Roddick Ã¢â‚¬â€? Spadea explains why he believes Roddick’s game has declined a bit since the former No. 1 split with Brad Gilbert. Spadea also recounts the time he and Roddick squired two models to late-night clubs in Australia and how the models responded when Roddick offered to fly them back to South Florida.
Andre Agassi Ã¢â‚¬â€? Spadea details how it feels to step on the court against the eight-time Grand Slam champion and recalls the wild weekend he spent with Agassi in Vegas when he was just an 18-year-old practice partner and Agassi was training for his comeback.
John McEnroe Ã¢â‚¬â€? Spadea takes readers inside a memorable practice session with the Hall of Famer on the red clay of New York City’s Tennisport and, in another humorous anecdote, remembers attending a Los Angeles party along with McEnroe, Jim Carrey, Adam Sandler and Pamela Anderson, in which McEnroe introduced Spadea to fellow party goers by simply saying: “This is the guy who tanked at Wimbledon.” McEnroe selected Spadea to play against Spain in the Davis Cup semifinals in Santander, Spain in what proved to be McEnroe’s final tie as U.S. Davis Cup captain before younger brother Patrick succeeded him. Spadea’s public debate with Patrick McEnroe over the captain initially by-passing him for a spot on the squad that played Spain in the 2004 Davis Cup final is also explored in the book.
Pete Sampras Ã¢â‚¬â€? Spadea, who trained with Sampras’ former coach Pete Fischer and beat Sampras in their last meeting, details the qualities that make Sampras one of the greatest player in the history of the game as well as how Sampras enjoyed telling risque jokes.
Rafael Nadal Ã¢â‚¬â€? Spadea, who has split two career matches with the reigning Roland Garros champion, says he will be surprised if Nadal matches Jim Courier’s feat of winning four Grand Slam titles.
Brad Gilbert Ã¢â‚¬â€? The book illustrates why Gilbert was one of the most acerbic players in the game, but became one of tennis’ top coaches.
Women Ã¢â‚¬â€? Who are the biggest womanizers on the ATP Tour? Who are the Tour’s the biggest dogs? And what are the drawbacks to engaging female groupies? Spadea offers answers.
“I give you my honest opinions. It’s always interesting to be out there and wonder and now this book makes you wonder less and makes you feel like you’ve been on the tour for years,” Spadea says. “In a sense, it’s like a handbook of what it’s like to be a pro tennis player.
It makes you laugh and makes you sit and think and sometimes maybe even makes you sad. That’s a great mix, that’s what life on tour is about and that was my goal to give readers. So make sure you get eight hours of sleep before you read it because it is exciting. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud, you’ll think a bit and you will definitely come away with some stories you will always remember.”
Spadea took time out from a recent practice session in Los Angeles to sit down with Tennis Week and talk about his book in this interview.
Tennis Week: Vince, how did this book originate?
Vince Spadea: I started in October of 2004. Basically, Dan and I have known each other from the past and from seeing each other at tournaments. We had an interview during the 2004 U.S. Open and Dan told me: “I think you have a good story. You’re an interesting character, you’ve had a great comeback with big wins and crazy losses and you do the rapping and writing. Let’s see if we can do a book?” If somebody just walks up to you and says “Hey, you want to write book?” How many people are going to say no? I was excited to do it and I feel we have a good story to tell people about what it’s like being a tennis player.
Tennis Week: What do you think distinguishes this book and what elements will appeal to tennis fans?
Vince Spadea: I think it’s a novel book because it’s a guy who is still in the middle of the mix talking very openly about life on the tour and that’s something that’s never really been done in the sport of tennis before.
Tennis Week: What was the concept going into the project?
Vince Spadea: The idea was to establish who I am and what it’s like to live the life of a tennis pro. By background, we establish who I am and what’s happened so far in my life and career. We used diary form because I’d already done online diaries for newspapers and web sites before. So I had explored that niche, it seemed to work for me and I had gotten some good feedback from some of my past articles. Dan is an experienced writer who is very good at picking out the most interesting stuff I’ve written. Basically, you’re walking through life on the tour with Vince Spadea when you read this book. It starts with the reader getting on the roller coaster ride that is the tour with me, you’re sitting right next to me, we put down the safety bar and then the ride starts.
Tennis Week: In writing the book, did you learn anything about yourself or about professional tennis that surprised you?
Vince Spadea: Writing the book helped me think through a lot of things and sort of reflect on what I’m trying to accomplish in my life and career, on what I see, what I’m feeling and what my opinions really are. It’s the world of tennis seen through Vince Spadea’s eyes. Writing is always sort of a reflective hobby and basically an action that can tell you some things about yourself because you write what has been going through your head whether that is good, bad or indifferent. Honesty is the most important thing when it comes to writing a diary and I was very honest in my writing. Pretty much, I was writing masses and masses of email to him. I would just think about something to write about and I wrote it on a PDA and sometimes on a lap top. Writing on a PDA helped me because anytime a thought or idea popped in my head I could immediately start writing it. Sometimes, the hardest thing about writing is starting to write: you get sort of cramped up and it’s hard to get the ball rolling. But once you actually start writing, I found I could really get going and write about everything from the profound factors of life as a tennis player to just simple commentary about the game or players.
Tennis Week: Are there any revelations or anecdotes in the book that may surprise tennis fans or fellow players?
Vince Spadea: I think I have used a lot of metaphors that really bring tennis to life Ã¢â‚¬â€? both my own life and other people’s lives. Whether it is an anecdote about a tennis match, or an off-court situation or a confrontation with another individual or player or a kinship that develops through tennis. Some parts of the book are about the every day lifestyle of a professional tennis player, some are comments about players, situations and tournaments and there’s also just locker-room banter and comical anecdotes. When you put it all together, it kind of takes the reader on this ride through the tour and it all flows. I’ve really put my heart and effort and soul into the writing of this book and thinking it through. I think if I wasn’t playing tennis I could have taken it to the further level as I had to try to multi-task in doing a lot. But I can tell you I gave everything I had: emotionally, insightfully, truthfully to the book and I think people who read it will see that.
Tennis Week: Was the actual writing process cathartic for you at any point?
Vince Spadea: At times, I was writing and I’d get really sentimental and I would get emotional or I would be writing and just cracking up at other times. So I would try to work off those emotions when they came. Writing is such a great art so you can be very specific when you write or you can be a little more abstract and play with the words. The McEnroe excerpt you’ve seen is an example where I tried to throw in a little bit of the daily life with the girl and then write about practicing with McEnroe and tell the readers what does McEnroe really look like when he shows up for practice, what does he say to you when you practice with him, what does he really play like now. So it’s anecdotal, it’s informative, it’s comic and you have a vague possible romance and try to bring all the elements together than compel the human soul. So reading the book, you experience the comic moments, the serious side, the triumph, the low points. Life on the tour is in essence a roller coaster ride whether you’re the young prodigy who made $20 million already or the established veteran, tennis takes its dips and makes its peak. I think the greatest theme of the book is the human connection and the way we think and feel and we can all relate to that on some level.
Tennis Week: When you write about other players whether it’s Agassi, Roddick, Blake or Fish, were you conscious of of the fact that if you write something too revealing or too critical you might then have to face these guys in a future match or did you just decide to let it fly and write the truth as you see it?
Vince Spadea: At first we let it fly and you paint the room as bright as possible and then you can adjust as you edit the book. We’ve adjusted in editing mainly when the material might have been too mundane or too boring or if it didn’t go anywhere. So in those cases you edit it. I think the truth is something that people will always respect so even if it might strain something if it is the truth you don’t change it or omit it. I’m not here to shock the world, but at the same time I think there will be a few eye-opening stories in this book. Controversy is something people make out of the slightest mishap that can occur. Basically, if it is not a motivating, self-help book, then it’s going to be controversial when you are truthful because human beings have both goodness and darkness.
Tennis Week: So is it fair to say it is an honest look at life on the ATP Tour, but you’re not trying to pull a Jose Canseco and expose anyone or any particular issue as Canseco did with the steroid scandal in baseball?
Vince Spadea: I wouldn’t say it is a Canseco type of book. I don’t think there is one profanity in the entire book, but that’s my personality: I don’t usually use profanity. I just feel like in general I was pretty candid about myself and I’m willing to put myself Ã¢â‚¬â€? in all the aspects Ã¢â‚¬â€? right there in the open in a very honest way. So when I walk down the street people who read the book will know what color boxer shorts I wear, they can probably predict what I am thinking or feeling right now because they know the way I think and feel from my writing.
Tennis Week: Vince, is exposing yourself to that extent a little scary? I mean, there are things I’ve done that I’m not proud of and certainly wouldn’t even want to tell one person let alone tell a large audience in a book. Was it scary to be that open?
Vince Spadea: Exposing yourself it is a little scary. Sometimes, I’d find myself thinking as I wrote: “Gosh, I wonder what my mom will think about this? I wonder what my friends will think about this.” So yes, it can be scary. There’s always a couple of things you hold onto, but this book doesn’t pull many punches at all. Obviously, I want to have a good influence and a good impact an set a good example, but the truth and just being real is the important thing and in being truthful you know you can’t make everyone in the world happy.
Tennis Week: A lot of times people see the glamour and successful side of tennis while watching tournament victories. Some of the things people don’t see is the grind of traveling the tour, the loneliness, the dealing with the pain and rejection of losing on a weekly basis and just how that life can complicate relationships and shatter self confidence. What is one of the most important things readers will learn about the life of a tennis pro from this book?
Vince Spadea: Definitely, it is a tough, challenging lifestyle. It’s hard to make friends and keep friends and stay balanced in your life. I’d say one of the things the book shows is just the fact that the winning and losing dictates so much of your life: in how you are feeling after the match and the next day and even how you treat people. The winning and losing definitely dictates so much of how you feel and what you do in the rest of your life. So you do see the somberness of it all and there’s one morbid entry where I was feeling sort of hopeless and without any direction at all. Then there’s other times when I was excited about the simplest thing and a lot of that emotion has to do with whether I was winning or losing while I was writing that part. So you get a feeling of how tennis players feel and think, what goes through their heads and how that mental part of it is a big challenge and a big aspect of this crazy life we lead.
Tennis Week: Vince, when you read and listen to the things people write and say about you there’s quite a range. Some people think of you as a grinder, as a veteran, as a rapper as a competitor, as a player with a comic side or as a quirky kind of character. This book is your opportunity to sort of let people see the real you. Were there any misconceptions you sought to straighten out about yourself in this book?
Vince Spadea: The fact that some people might have found me to be enigmatic and maybe some journalists may not totally know where I’m coming from, this kind of settled that score and I revealed who I really am. So by sharing who I really am then you get a chance to really like me or not. I’m trying to show the world who I am and what I am about and what I’ve learned and what inspires me and do it in a real truthful, authentic way and not through a journalist’s perspective or an indirect perspective, but directly from me.
Tennis Week: I’ve only read the one excerpt from the book that we posted on the web site, but I’m told you are very honest in the book. Not that you vilify other players, but you are revealing in talking about other players. Are you concerned this book might add fuel to the competitive fire of opponents since you will have to face some of these guys after the book comes out and did the potential response from your fellow players inhibit anything you wrote about? Have you received any input or response from fellow players?
Vince Spadea: It’s in the early stages and people are just starting to get to know it. As the months go on it will gain a little bit more momentum and I know I’ll get more feedback. Life is competitive and life is great and life is unfair at times. When you come out with a book like this you are not really sure how people will react. I can tell you that the best thing in everyone’s interest, and my own intention, was to tell the truth and be brutally honest and show who I am. I’m not out there to make enemies. It’s a hard, tough life being a professional tennis player. I’ve met a lot of great players and great people. I’m telling you these stories through my eyes as a real guy who has lived this. You just don’t know how it will be received. Hopefully, it’s going to be a great thing for tennis and kind of transcend the tennis world and not just be what it’s like to be a tennis player, but show the story of an interesting character who can tell a story truthfully, win tennis matches, lose tennis matches and bleed just the way you bleed. I try to write about lessons I’ve learned and do it with humor and intelligence and not just tell you what it’s like to face Agassi’s backhand. The book is more substantial and deeper than that. At the same time, it’s not War and Peace Ã¢â‚¬â€? it’s just war (laughs). It all blends together really well and there’s always gonna be some positive and negatives, but I can’t afford to care too much so in that sense it is like a stand-up comedian: three quarters of the room can be laughing really hard and the others don’t get it, but that’s the nature of it.
Tennis Week: Looking back on the Davis Cup issue you and Patrick McEnroe had, I’ve spoken to both you and Patrick about that since it happened and have always felt there was a little more to that story then either of you revealed at the time. Do you write about the Davis Cup debate you had with Patrick in this book?
Vince Spadea: I go into some of the Davis Cup issues with Pat McEnroe. I just felt like there were certain things that needed to be out there and what it really was and is and how everything transpired. I give you my honest opinions. It’s like always interesting to be out there and wonder and now this book makes you wonder less and makes you feel like you’ve been on the tour for years. In a sense, it’s like a handbook of what it’s like to be a pro tennis player. It makes you laugh and makes you sit and think and sometimes maybe even makes you sad. That’s a great mix, that’s what life on tour is about and that was my goal to give readers. So make sure you get eight hours of sleep before you read it because it is exciting. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud, you’ll think a bit and you will definitely come away with some stories you will always remember.