Polar opposites in Federer-Spadea match

9/4/2006 - Tennis

NEW YORK -- One is self-effacing, the other is self-promoting.

One is decorous, the other outrageous. One is reserved, the other almost painfully candid.

If Roger Federer wrote poetry, it surely would be in traditional iambic pentameter. Vince Spadea prefers the driving rhythm of hip-hop lyrics. His signature rap sign-off, "I'm Vince Spadea and I'm not afraid of ya," has become the equivalent of a "Saturday Night Live" catchphrase in tennis circles.

One is No. 1, the other No. 84. When they take the court for their third-round U.S. Open match, the contrast they present might be the closest thing the sport has to Goofus and Gallant, the stars of the venerable children's cartoon that tries to teach manners.

The dignified Federer, 25, embodies consistency. Spadea, 32, is a provocative character and a talented athlete who has underachieved in many people's eyes, including his own. As a result, he has bounced from the ranking depths to the heights twice in his 13-year career.

Goofus talks with his mouth full! Gallant uses his napkin. Roger rarely has a bad word for anyone. Vince spills his guts in a tell-all book!

Spadea, of Boca Raton, Fla., chronicled his 2005 season on the men's tour in "Break Point: An Insider's Look at the Pro Tennis Circuit," co-written with Dan Markowitz and published this summer. Some reviewers have called the book an engaging read and others have panned it. Spadea's digs at some top players, including James Blake and Rafael Nadal, raised a few hackles.

Blake called the book "underhanded" and said he considered the locker room a "traveling office" where things said or observed in confidence should stay put. "It really doesn't have any place in a book unless you have someone's approval," he said. "He's never reached out and really gotten to know me, so it's tough to write about someone when you don't know anything about them."

Spadea responded Friday, saying, "The book's not about him," and went on to describe his overall goal.

"There's no overwhelming amount of offensive material," he said. "It's something that we want to know who these people are. I want to know. I was writing about it. I want you to know. I want you to know about me."

Even his family learned something, Spadea continued.

"I can be extremely extroverted or I can be just like, you know, very enigmatic, somewhat unpredictable," he said. "I think I left it all out there. It's just an exposé to the maximum as far as I'm concerned from my own person."

The two men's Web sites are representative of their personality differences. Federer's is an orderly, monochromatic affair, while Spadea's is an eye-popping smorgasboard that opens up to the accompaniment of a pulsing Led Zeppelin song and refers to him as "Vindawg."

Under the news category, Spadea's site announced his upcoming match with Federer and added, "The U.S. Open can not [sic] place Vince's next match on a back court!"

Spadea upset 29th seed Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden to arrange the meeting with the two-time defending U.S. Open champion and then held a lengthy press conference in which he dwelled on his struggles.

"There's so many humps out there on just a pointly basis," he said cryptically at one juncture.

A few minutes later, however, he made perfect sense.

"I feel like I can go out and make a great match out of it," Spadea said.

"There's so many times where I've played matches like this where, you know, I either get outplayed, outclassed. Or I get in the match and then it's tight. I just sort of fade. Or I'm in there and I'm not dominating, but I'm outplaying him, the legend, the high seed, and I'm just not able to close it out. Sometimes -- about 10 times in my career -- I've been able to close it out.

"I'm just going to go out there and believe in myself, know that it's just another tennis match. … He's probably playing the best tennis that he's ever played, and maybe that anyone's ever played. So it's somewhat challenging in that respect. But at the same time, Spadea ain't afraid of you, right?"

The two men haven't faced each other since 1999, when they split a pair of matches. Spadea prevailed on clay in Monte Carlo and Federer won on hard court in Vienna.

Federer turned 18 that summer. He hadn't yet cracked the top 100 and was still mixing in lower-level Challenger tournaments with ATP events. Spadea was an American talent on the rise, working his way up to No. 19 that season and finishing at No. 21. He beat Andre Agassi in the fourth round at the Australian Open to make his first -- and still only -- appearance in a Grand Slam event quarterfinal.

Spadea's career took a southward turn after that. He lost 14 straight matches to open up the 2000 season, sank to 237th in the rankings and found himself fighting for his tennis life on the Challenger circuit.

He turned to a sports psychologist for help and gradually rehabilitated his game, winning his first ATP tournament in 223 tries in Scottsdale in 2004 and hitting a career-high No. 18 in early 2005. He's played unevenly since, while Federer has accumulated eight Grand Slam titles.

Spadea can only hope that their match is the stuff of song. He was quick to comply when asked to come up with a rhyme for Federer. "He's a predator," Spadea said.

The veteran will have to be equally fast on his feet Sunday if he doesn't want to be dead meat.

Frequent contributor Bonnie DeSimone is covering the U.S. Open for ESPN.com.