Wimbledon opens on winning note

Spadea puts stop to 21-match skid

June 27, 2000|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England - He lost on grass, clay and hard courts. He lost on three continents and in five-setters. He lost so many different ways in so many different matches that even his parents seemed to give up hope.

But yesterday, Vince Spadea won and lifted a tennis monkey off his back.

The 26-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., ended his mammoth 21-match losing streak with a marathon victory over No. 14-seeded Greg Rusedski, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 9-7.

"My parents went home two days ago," Spadea said. "I think they saw the draw and said, `Vince, man, good luck to you, boy. Just use that racket speed, but I don't know if that will help you.' "

The speed helped. So did the grit, as Spadea ground his way through a match that featured rain, swaying momentum and one last long volley before ending near sunset.

"It was worth the wait, huh, people?" Spadea said of his first win since October.

Spadea's win added a dash of heart and humor on a brisk opening day at Wimbledon.

There were plenty of tennis gems planted on the pristine grounds of the All England Club.

Six-time champion Pete Sampras rolled out on Centre Court and rolled over Jiri Vanek, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

"I would have liked to put in a per- formance that's a little more solid, but for the first match, I'm happy," Sampras said.

He then weighed into Wimbledon's seeding controversy that saw Spain's Alex Corretja and Albert Costa withdraw in protest, while Juan Carlos Ferrero pulled out with a back injury. The trio, all ranked in the ATP's top 16, failed to be seeded at Wimbledon, which gives preference to strong grass-court players.

"You really try to rise above it instead of being a little childish about it and going home," Sampras said. "It's a bit disappointing."

One of the players aided by the seeding controversy was 1996 champion Richard Krajicek, whose No. 11 seed was higher than his ATP ranking. He was supposed to play Costa, got his replacement, Michael Kohlmann, lost the first set, yet managed to win, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

"I never saw the guy before," Krajicek said. "I didn't know what he looked like. I needed a couple of games to see how he was returning, what kind of serve he liked and didn't like."

Rusedski also earned a Wimbledon seeding higher than his ranking for his supposed mastery on grass. But the player who was born in Canada and took up British citizenship fell disastrously in front of his "adopted" hometown crowd.

"It was kind of an up-and-down, yo-yo ride," he said. "I was trying my best out there but unfortunately I'm struggling at the moment."

He figured to catch a break in the opening round, facing Spadea.

"He's too good a player to lose as many matches as he has lost," Rusedski said.

But Rusedski found himself trying to come from behind the entire match, finally getting up 7-6 in the fifth, and serving for the win. Instead, he gave up a break and was sent to defeat.

"When you're struggling, it's hard to finish those matches," he said.

Just ask Spadea.

Going on a 21-match losing streak in tennis isn't like a 21-game hitless streak in baseball. It's a slump that lasts months, follows a player around the world and costs thousands of dollars in lost prize money.

"It has been a rough patch in my life in tennis - let's say that," he said. "Hey, you know, it didn't really faze me so much. I was trying to enjoy my life a little more, trying to improve my tennis game."

But he said he understood the stakes in meeting Rusedski at Wimbledon.

"I was going to be on the court," he said. "I knew there would be TV, people there. They're all going to talk about what I've been doing. It was going to put a microscope on me, too."

Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash helped Spadea during practice sessions in the past month. John McEnroe was there at the end, hugging him so hard that Spadea said, "I felt like my first kid was born."

It sure was better than another loss.

"If I lost this match, that would have been my lowest point - holy goodness, where do I go from here?" he said.

Instead of second-guessing himself, he's now in the second round.

"I'm not even analyzing the monkey that I had on my back," he said. "I'm just focused on the fact that this will be a great memory, no matter what happened to me this year."

Feature matches

(Seeds in parentheses) Today's men's singles Andre Agassi (2) vs. Taylor Dent

Magnus Norman (3) vs. Mark Woodforde

Gustavo Kuerten (4) vs. Chris Woodruff

Yevgeny Kafelnikov (5) vs. Roger Federer

Today's women's singles Lindsay Davenport (2) vs. Corina Morariu

Mary Pierce (3) vs. Nicole Pratt

Conchita Martinez (4) vs. Anne Kremer

Monica Seles (6) vs. Karina Habsudova

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