Article: Davenport only getting better with age
Davenport only getting better with age
NEW HAVEN ó There was a turn in the career of Lindsay Davenport where she graduated from the big, slouchy player with an extra 10 into this charming ambassador of the game.
While Davenportís personality remained pleasant, shy and constant, the perception of Davenport did this amazing U-turn as her figure tightened and commitment to excellence swelled.
Seven years after stepping into the big time with a straight-set 1998 U.S. Open championship over Martina Hingis, Davenport stood before a Pilot Pen audience Saturday as a grand dame, an honor reserved for players of historic magnitude.
"I think it happens to almost everyone toward the later stages of their career," said Davenport, the 2005 Pilot Pen Tennis champion after a methodical 6-4, 6-4 victory over Amelie Mauresmo. "I donít know exactly what that is, but like with Monica (Seles), she was much more popular the last few years she played. Even with Steffi (Graf), you see some of their earlier matches and the crowd isnít necessarily for her."
Martina Navratilova is the poster woman for tennis players who have gone from unloved to beloved during the course of a brilliant career. Jack Nicklaus would be the prototype in golf.
But it doesnít happen to average players, or even very good players. Itís a special badge for those who generally become legends of the game.
"I donít know if people would describe me as a legend," said Davenport, modest to a fault. "But if youíve been in the limelight and at the top of their game for 12 years, you (receive a certain warmth from fans)."
Davenportís era of excellence isnít always fully appreciated when you consider that she first reached No. 1 on Oct. 12, 1998 in the midst of the womenís tennis transition from Graf to Hingis. Davenport recaptured the No. 1 spot during the height of the Jennifer Capriati comeback. She recaptured the No. 1 spot during the ascent of Venus and Serena Williams and the dominance of Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.
Davenport has withstood runs by the greatest players of this generation, and as of Saturday, she returned to the No. 1 ranking for the seventh time in her career.
That is the statistical testimony to her Hall of Fame resume. You can look up her Grand Slam championships ó she has a Wimbledon and Australian Open championship to go with the U.S. Open title ó and has 48 career titles overall.
But the part that strikes me most is the way sheís now received in tennis houses, much like New Haven, around the world. We should say even in New Haven, because last year she pulled out of The Pen on the first Sunday night of the tournament.
It was a stunning blow to the tournament at the time, and many feel her appearance this year is a form of apology, even if she did what she felt she had to do last year.
"Hopefully the slate is clean," said Davenport, who missed most of this summerís schedule with a back injury, and two years ago, beset by various injuries, openly talked about retiring. "Iím not one to reminisce. All I can worry about is what I am now, in my late 20s, almost 30. And I kind of go from there. Obviously I wish I had been as smart in my early 20s as I am now, or more knowledgeable about what needs to be done.
"But I feel itís been a great, great road for me and a great learning process. I figured out a lot of things on my own that probably made me a stronger person. I am happy who I have become, no matter what road that took."
You can make the case she didnít seize as many Grand Slam championships as she should have. She hasnít won one of those darn things since the 2000 Australian Open.
But she did reach the finals of both the 2005 Aussie Open and Wimbledon and is second-seeded heading down to New York for the Open this week.
Every step from here, anyway, is toward Newport, R.I., home of the tennis Hall of Fame, having been kissed by audiences who appreciate her gentle charm.
"She doesnít like the limelight, the parties and the glitz that goes along with fame," said her agent, Tony Godsick. "Sheís more apt to win a tournament and go home and retreat to being Lindsay Davenport, a normal California girl who likes to go to the beach and has a lot of other interests she doesnít share with the world. Sheís a very private person who lives her life in a public world and Iím not so sure sheís so comfortable with that."
Instead, over time, itís the public that has grown comfortable with Davenport, respectful of her achievements on the court and appreciative of her class off of it.
The perception of Davenport may have changed dramatically over the last 10 years, but oddly enough, Davenport has been the constant through it all.