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Vince Spadea Blog: What U.S. Men Need to Work On; Tennis Rappin'

January 25, 2013 01:11 PM
spadea-miamiLongtime Boca Raton, Fla., resident and former world No. 18 Vince Spadea will be periodically blogging for USTA Florida in 2013. He last competed on tour in 2010 after an injury-riddled 2009 season. He boasts career wins over former No. 1s Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick, Patrick Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Jim Courier, Marat Safin, and Gustavo Kuerten, and he twice represented the U.S. at the Olympics. He is the author of "Break Point: The Secret Diary Of A Pro Tennis Player," and a tennis coach, rapper and clothing designer among his many off-court pursuits:
 
Jan. 23, 2013
 
Hey everyone! I'm hanging in there, enjoying life off tour. I can now sit in the stands and watch the great players compete. Do I miss the game? Yes and no. Yes, the thrill of competing in front of appreciative crowds and doing battle around the world. No, because of the little details everyday, the tough training, the travel, the injuries, the matches I almost won but didn't. Overall, its time to let others compete and enjoy the ups and downs of being pro athlete.
 
What a privilege to be a pro tennis player. Countless memories, great people I met, friends I made, and times I will forever cherish...the rewards and rigors of the pro tennis tour. But as Billie Jean King eloquently said, "Pressure is a privilege."
 
Now let's talk American men's tennis for a minute. I know this is a much-talked-about subject, but a vital one to our history and future as a great tennis country. How will we inspire the generations to come if we don't continue to develop champions and idols?
 
Here are my two cents. There were no American men in the round of 16 at the 2013 Australian Open for the second year in a row. Lets dig deeper than 4th round talk. Unfortunately Mardy Fish has been having health problems and I hope he gets better soon. John Isner had a knee injury and didn't play. As a general thought, Mardy and John are more or less late bloomers. They have made an incredible run to the Top 10 in the backside of their 20s (Mardy now 30+). They have had some incredible results and hats off to them for improving past their younger years on tour. However neither Mardy nor John have made it to a Grand Slam semifinal as of yet. We hope they will before they retire, and anything is possible.
 
Andy [Roddick] was our last great American hero to date. How will we find the next one...no American has won the Australian Open since [Andre] Agassi in 2003. No American man has won a slam since Roddick 2003. What happened at the Australian Open this year? Is it the off-season training? Surface? Luck of the draw? General state of American men's tennis? I'd like to focus on the up and coming crop of Americans and how they can develop into getting to those second weeks in Grand Slams.
 
Let's simplify: The way I see it, you have 7 major departments in tennis. Forehand, backhand (topspin/slice), volleys (transition), serve (serve and volley), return of serve, fitness (agility, speed, endurance,), and mental toughness. I truly don't believe Americans are training all these departments correctly and efficiently. Our young American tennis players need to focus on all categories. This will separate us from the grinders and highly-fit European and Latin players on tour. How can we compete if we are trying to beat them at their game?
 
At the same rate, if we are only trying to follow the big serve/big forehand model, that's a slippery slope if you can't make passing shots off your backhand, approach and volley, and grind it out at times. We need an established groundstroke blueprint, with a versatile component of transition, big serving AND return of serve, AND mental toughness/composure.
 
Speaking at the very top of the game technically, look at the greatest players of all time. [Rod] Laver, Federer, Sampras, [Bill] Tilden, etc., you will find they have developed their full capacity in all departments. They vary in backhand abilities, mental, and serve power, but they predominantly cover all the real estate in the game of tennis. Even players like [Novak] Djokovic, [Ivan] Lendl, [Jimmy] Connors, Agassi, [Bjorn] Borg, Nadal, [Mats] Wilander, [John] McEnroe all had/have superb careers. But even they excel in 5 of the 7 departments, thus I believe limiting their Slam count. Federer has 7 ways (departments) to win a point or match. Agassi has 4 or 5.
 
If you notice, when Andre was off, he was really off. He didn't have other areas to bail him out if his forehand or footwork were missing. In fact, when I beat Andre at the 1999 Australian Open, my strategy was to add a unique dimension to my game. I decided to take his second serve, hit it hard down the line and come in. It seemed to confuse him, and gave me an advantage. I knew if I had to only play groundstrokes with him with in the hot summer sun of Melbourne, I was not going to come out on the winning end. He was fitter, faster, and more accurate off both sides. I diversified my game, and I found his missing shots. It helped that I volleyed well that day, and played a great match off the baseline too.
 
Reaching the round of 16 at the Australian Open is not asking too much -- even I did it once or twice. I think the problem stems from the organic foundation that is set in the training and mindset. I saw interviews from American players at this year's Australian saying how much they improved their "fitness." That's great and all, but I believe players ranked as high as 3 or 4 have to improve their games, much less players ranked 60+. I still see faulty volley techniques, wild backswings on groundstrokes, low first serve percentages, and poor return of serve stats.
 
The player that can have an open mind, a focus to improve any stroke at any time of his career, is the guy who will become great. The earlier the better. I made these mistakes as well in my career. When you have a certain amount of success, you don't feel you need to improve much. Maybe some "fitness" and a little slice backhand once in a while. But the results speak for themselves. I guarantee I can find a problem in someone's game at any level, but who is willing to address it?
 
Look at Andy Murray last year. He hired Ivan Lendl, and they addressed his forehand and mental confidence and built them up more. Look at the difference in his results. I am a firm believe that subtle changes make for significant improvements. The key word is "changes." Until we make some changes and open our minds to developing an all-court game correctly, we will always get lukewarm players and results. When I say "all-court" game, I don't mean hit forehands, backhands, volleys, serves, returns, and play points. I mean really understand how to improve each stroke, and how to mentally apply it at the right times, against the right players/surfaces.
 
I firmly believe we have some great talent coming up, and I look forward to seeing the next American men's tennis hero win a Grand Slam in the near future.
 
On the lighter side of things,
 
My name is Spadea,
you know I ain't afraida ya,
from Arthur Ashe Stadium,
I feel like ex-Spadea,
booked gigs like Expedia,
now blogging like I'm media,
tennis encyclopedia,
USTA Florida,
Make way cause I'll be flooring ya,
stories, morning glorys, so no worries,
I'm here to stay, I backed by the USTA.
 
MC V
 
-Vince Spadea
 
 
Got a question for Vince or a comment? Drop an e-mail to news@florida.usta.com.
 
 
 
 
 

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