Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Spadea has returned, and so has his game

By Dustin Dow
The Cincinnati Enquirer


Photos of Monday's play
MASON - Mall King is back, but he's got a new game.

Five years ago Vince Spadea became a crowd favorite at the Cincinnati Tennis Masters Series when he made a surprising run to the quarterfinals. All the while, he referred to himself as "Mall King," in reference to his penchant for visiting Kenwood Mall during his off time.

But it has been a few years since the 28-year-old's presence at the Cincinnati tournament involved anything more than good shopping.

Spadea hasn't won a main draw match in Cincinnati since 1998, and hasn't even appeared in the main draw since 2000, losing in qualifiers the last two years. His disappearance from Cincinnati coincided with a disastrous 2000 season in which Spadea lost 21 consecutive matches and fell from No. 20 to No. 237 in the world rankings.

The struggles of 2000 brought about a year on the minor-league circuit in 2001.

"After I reached the Top 20, I didn't enjoy tennis as much. I slid down skid row," Spadea said. "I was lucky to realize it and do something about it before I fell completely out of the rankings."

After more than two years, a more focused Spadea has regained his form, winning 13 matches and ending 2002 ranked No. 67. He plays his first match today against Younes El Aynaoui ranked No. 31 after having reached the semifinals of Tennis Masters Series events in Indian Wells (Calif.) and Monte Carlo.

Spadea's comeback has thrived on the redirection of his tennis life, which now includes a support group complete with a tennis psychologist. But that doesn't mean the Mall King is dead. Spadea just no longer answers to that name.

"It was more of a nickname," he said. "I created my own story there. I like to enjoy my stay and make the most of the local happenings. I look for something fun to do. You have to keep yourself focused (on tennis) but balanced and at ease."

Next on Spadea's wish list is his first ATP title, another Top-20 appearance and a solid Grand Slam showing.

"I'm one or two tournaments away from being catapulted into the elite," said Spadea. "I've been too close to the edge of that brink before."


E-mail ddow@enquirer.com

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