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‘Serial loser’ Spadea fights back from brink

London: Three years ago Vince Spadea was the joke of the men’s professional tennis circuit. A run of 21 consecutive defeats on the Tour had him labelled a “serial loser” and there seemed no way back for a player who peaked at world number 19 in 1999. As he prepares for next week’s French Open, however, only a fool would laugh off the American baseliner’s credentials.

In April he became the first American to reach the semi-finals on Monte Carlo’s clay courts since Aaron Krickstein in 1992. Just a month earlier he made the last four at the Masters Series event in Indian Wells, losing to Lleyton Hewitt.

His stunning start to the season (he also reached the semi-finals in Memphis) briefly shot him into the top 10 of the Champions Race and restored his world ranking to 32 after it had plummeted to 229 at the end of a horrible 2000.

Having emerged from that annus horribilis, 28-year-old Spadea now believes his best days are still to come.

“I’m building towards a better career now than I did even when I was in the top 20,” he said after losing to Spain’s Juan Carlos Ferrero in Monte Carlo last month. It’s been a difficult road. But it’s my goal to get back into that position and maybe take a step further.”

Despite snapping his losing sequence with an improbable first-round victory over Greg Rusedski at Wimbledon 2000, Spadea dropped down to the Challenger circuit in 2001. That winding road took him to some obscure tennis outposts from Hawaii to Romania. It also revived his hunger as he rubbed shoulders with young risers such as Andy Roddick and James Blake.

“It was a very humble experience and scary, you know. It’s fearful when you’re at the brink of success to know you’re sliding down. Unless you really, focus and commit at this point, then you will just play Challengers. The Challenger circuit is very underrated.

“I was adamant to give this game one more serious try, knowing that my youth is going to go sour at some point.”

His return to the higher echelons of the game has not been a solo journey. In 2001 Spadea began working with Pete Fischer, who coached Pete Sampras and sought out tennis psychologist John Murray. He also has former junior sparring partner Scott Davidoff as his travelling coach. “It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of decision-making, building a support team of coaches and positive influences in my surroundings,” said Spadea.

He has never won an ATP singles title and the chances of him breaking the duck in Paris are remote. But while his comeback may have gone largely unnoticed in the shadow of Andre Agassi’s and Jennifer Capriati’s rise from zeros to heroes, he is just happy to have shaken off the most unwanted tag in tennis.

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