Mardy Fish defeated Vince Spadea at the Countrywide Classic with the Davis Cup looking on.

Yes, that is THE Davis Cup and that is me standing in front of it. I figure a Davis Cup pic is more valuable than a photo of Mardy Fish or Vince Spadea running around a tennis court. You can get those anywhere right? The cup is standing in the middle of the tennis complex on the UCLA campus here at the Countrywide Classic, but only till 9pm when it will leave for its next appearance.

I’m not using this image for entirely egotistical reasons. It features in my story today.

I’m (still) reading Vince Spadea’s book, Break Point: The Secret Diary of a Pro Tennis Player. Besides being as feisty as its author, the book has some insight into the psychological ploys that players use to motivate themselves. One motivational ploy is the slight. Spadea fuels himself off slights and one of those slights involved his opponent this afternoon, Mardy Fish.

Spadea wanted to play Davis Cup for the US in 2004 but Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe chose Fish instead. If you read Spadea’s book, it looks like he was cheated out of his rightful place on the team. He wrote an open letter to McEnroe stating his case and, according to Spadea, McEnroe chose him to go to the Davis Cup finals that year with the agreement that Spadea would play if he beat Fish in practice.

Spadea kept a log of his matches with Fish and he beat him in three 11-point groundstroke games and two sets. After their match today, I asked Fish about the Davis Cup controversy. He hadn’t read Spadea’s book but he remembered the incident well:

I’d played Davis Cup the entire year. For him to think that he was just gonna come in and play the final after we did all the work to get to the final is slightly ambitious. Beating me in baseline games to 11 certainly doesn’t mean that he deserves to play the final after we did all the work to get there.

Notice that Fish remembers those 11-point game losses. Spadea is not wrong in his recollection but he doesn’t quite tell the whole story either. Fish and Spadea’s ranking flip-flopped during 2004. Spadea started in the 30’s and ended in the 20’s whereas Fish started in the 20’s and ended in the 30’s. So Fish was the highest ranking player at the beginning of the year and he’d also performed well in a Davis Cup match the year before.

Spadea may not have been treated fairly in the Davis Cup finals but you can hardly blame McEnroe for choosing Fish, and perhaps escalating the slight to larger proportions is Spadea’s way of motivating himself during the long grind of the tennis season. Here’s a guy, after all, who is now 34 years old and has over 400 victories in his career.

Fish might also have wanted to prove that he deserved that Davis Cup spot because he lost his three matches with Spadea before 2004 and won all three of them after. All but one of those matches went three sets and the match today did too. Spadea fought back from a break down to win the first set tiebreaker in a display of tight tennis from both players. Spadea appeared to tire from then on as Fish got the win, 6-7(5), 6-1, 6-0, and is into the quarterfinals.

Fish is in the quarterfinals but Andy Roddick won’t play his first match till tomorrow evening. John McEnroe and Jim Courier will play too and all three will be holding media sessions so there should more than enough to talk about tomorrow. See you then.

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