You know how tough life has been for Taylor Dent these past few years? About 24 months ago, I got an e-mail from Blake Edwards, a reader of mine who was just out of college and taking the test to become a USPTA certified pro in the Kansas City area.
Edwards showed up for the test at Kansas City's Homestead Country Club. He was shocked to find himself sitting down to take the test with … Taylor Dent. That Taylor Dent -- formerly No. 21 in the world. Forced to leave the tour with a terrible back injury, Dent apparently decided to keep his options open by taking the standard test administered to those tennis nuts who often end up feeding balls to ladies who lunch.
Blake reported that Dent was a stand-up guy. The two of them sat around, shooting the breeze and talking about Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, the WTA players and Dent's beloved Los Angeles Lakers.
Two years and two surgeries later, Dent is back on the tour -- it looks like that plum job at Recession Hills Bath and Tennis (don't forget to tell Mrs. Mintz how well little Chloe and Cody are doing!) will have to wait. On second thought, maybe not: Dent plays Roger Federer later on Tuesday at the Sony Ericsson Open. Blindfold and cigarette, please.
Well, no matter how the match goes, it's unlikely that Dent is going to make much of his USPTA certification any time soon. He's committed to attempting a serious comeback, and while his career-high ranking of No. 21 is a speck on the horizon (Dent is currently No. 467), the road is open and he apparently has plenty of horsepower under the hood. So far at this tournament, he has taken out Nicolas Almagro and Tommy Robredo -- two tour veterans who could be called "clay-court specialists" by the simple-minded.
"I feel great," Dent reported the other day, after taking out Robredo. "For me, it's really vindication."
Dent developed his game on hard courts. He's a hefty lad who plays serve-and-volley tennis and was known for flinging himself around the court with abandon. That kind of tennis can be jarring and bone-crushing, and Dent paid the price in the way of a broken L-5 vertebra. The official name for the condition is "spondylolisthesis," and it's as difficult to endure as it is to say or spell.
Ultimately, the condition required two different surgeries (in March and September of 2007). Dent spent most of that year in bed -- which isn't the worst option for a guy who's in a cast from his armpits down to his knees. I guess you could say he was well-rested.
And while he lay around wondering what the future might bring (besides Chloe and Cody), he also took stock of how he'd handled Phase I of his pro career. He realized that too often he'd been way too emotional and negative during his matches. And when the cast came off and his physician in Los Angeles (Dr. Todd Lanman) suggested that he might try reviving his career, Dent undertook the mission with a different attitude.
"It may not seem like it if you watch me play, but it's just a little bit less negative emotions out on the court, or less emotional on the court. I try to look at it more businesslike. I walk off the court and I'm saying, 'What shot let me down? What shot helped me win? … I think if I had done that from a younger age, I would have been a much stronger player."
Well, Dent will get the chance to test his newfound self-control to the max Tuesday against Federer. Keep in mind that Dent has a relentless, attacking game that's out of vogue these days, so it will be a new look for Federer. Besides, it wouldn't be the first time that Dent shows that yes, anything is possible.