Yesterday I spoke of my eternal weaving of past, present and future. Those moments come in all sorts of ways. Hours after arrival on the grounds of the BNP Paribas Open, my Tennis Channel colleague Ashley Ndebele and I took off on one of my favorite activities at this tournament – a stroll around the grounds. Through the throng gathered to watch Roger Federer practice, along a bank of practice courts, past spectators on chairs watching the big screen, across the lawn and near the pro shop, we spotted a player from the recent past. There, clad in a crisp blue Los Angeles Dodgers hat, looking quite fit, stood 42-year-old Vince Spadea, a quasi-rogue of sorts once ranked as high as 18 in the world.
Journalistic secret revealed: When trying to engage with a tennis player, it’s wise to start with a positive comment. Well aware of Spadea’s biggest asset inside the lines, I blurted out, “Hey, Vinnie, how many backhands right now are better than yours?”
A smiling Spadea said, “Thirty percent. That’s right, 30 percent.”
Suck-up question number two: Spadea’s best effort at Indian Wells.
“Semis in ‘03,” he said, then paused. “Out of the qualifying.”
Asked what he’s doing these days, Spadea stared at the mountains and said, “My favorite thing – nothing.”
In other words, I asked, was his life an existence out of Seinfeld?
“Yes,” said Spadea, “nothing.”
Were he an active player, or more accurately, one of ascending interest or intriguing exile -- Francis Tiafoe, Madison Keys, Pete Sampras – the probe might have continued. But by this time, this random interview had reached a stage of mutual satisfaction and closure for all. Spadea knew it. Ashley and I knew it. Still, it was interesting to know that Spadea felt he could still strike his backhand better than 70 percent of the current pros.