After 11 years and 222 tournaments without a title on the ATP Tour, Vincent Spadea's perspective on winning had taken a sharp turn downward.
Spadea started believing that winning-is-the-only-thing stuff was bogus and that just being on the Tour was enough reward.
Boy did Spadea learn how wrong he was Sunday.
Enduring a little heat wave and some frustrating delay tactics by Nicolas Kiefer, Spadea ended his title drought by beating the German, 7-5, 6-7 (5), 6-3, in the championship of the Franklin Templeton Classic at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
"How many tournaments?" said Spadea, a Chicago native, when asked how it felt to stop his losing streak at 222 tournaments. "Yeah, it's cool. Maybe my focus wasn't to do these kinds of things, and this week it kind of was, so I may have a different mentality from now (on). I thought just being on the Tour was fun. Now, I know there are so many better rewards than just making it on the Tour.
"I am very excited. It's a great win for me. It's a better-late-than-never kind of thing."
Spadea, 29, was the tourney's fourth seed while Kiefer was seventh. Yet, since Kiefer has six Tour titles under his belt and was ranked sixth in the world in 1999, the whispers in the crowd of 4,732 were that Kiefer was the favorite. That changed after Spadea — not a big hitter but a very steady one — won the first set 7-5, breaking Kiefer in the 11th game. Kiefer again seemed headed for victory when he won the second set. Spadea, though, quickly regrouped. He broke Kiefer's service to go up 5-3 in the third set and then closed him out with two service winners, an ace and another service winner.
Kiefer wasn't a gracious loser. He had no praise for Spadea.
"I lost the match. I had so many chances," Kiefer said. "He didn't win it. I lost it."
Not about to let Kiefer cloud his moment in the sun, Spadea responded to Kiefer's comment with a subtle rip.
"I don't remember him making an unbelievable amount of errors to give me a lot of points," said Spadea, who earned $52,000 with the win. "At the same time, I don't know how high the level of tennis was. I've hit the ball better, but in different circumstances."
Their responses about each other probably were related to an animosity that built throughout the match. Kiefer employed some slow-down tactics, most likely to get in Spadea's head. Time and again, Kiefer would leave the baseline just before a point was to be played to wipe his brow with a towel.
"He likes to take his time. Instead of getting annoyed or irritated, I kind of took it to my advantage," Spadea said. "I said, well, it's hot out here, and we've been taking some tough points, he's helping me because now I can recover more."
Spadea got into the delay act himself in the third set, heading to his sideline after a point for a gulp of Gatorade. Kiefer reacted by heading for his towel just when Spadea was going to serve.
"Maybe he was almost dying so he had to drink something," Kiefer said, obviously satirically. "It's good for him. It saved his life."
It also got the crowd roaring behind Spadea, who responded with a service winner.
The title was something expected of Spadea much earlier in his career. Spadea, who had reached the finals of a tournament only twice previously, finished 1999 ranked 20th in the world and figured to move up. Instead, he dropped to 229th in 2000 and slipped to playing non-Tour events. He started a slow comeback in 2001, a comeback which was finalized Sunday.