JOE PALLADINO: WTA slaps face of women's tennis
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
BY JOE PALLADINO
Copyright © 2006 Republican-American NEW HAVEN
Let's straighten this out right now about Lindsay Davenport: She is the face of American women's tennis, and that is saying something for a 30-year-old gal in a game dominated by teeny-somethings. And it is a nice face, with a certain cherub quality, sparkling eyes, bubblegum cheeks and a neon smile.
Davenport is the latest in a line that runs direct and true from Billie Jean King to Chrissie Evert to Lindsay. Capriati doesn't belong there, and neither do Venus or Serena. For all the hype and hoopla, they have never been ambassadors for the game.
It goes from King to Queen to fresh-faced California Girl.
And yet the WTA tour is doing funny things to Lindsay.
To summarize: Davenport is again fighting through a series of nagging injuries. She's had a bulging disc problem in her back, followed by a mysterious fall in her home this summer. She doesn't know what happened. She blacked out. All that is known is that doctors said she sustained a concussion and whiplash in the fall.
Davenport's training has been, using her word, "meticulous." She has picked her spots this summer to try to make a comeback to prepare for the U.S. Open.
But it wasn't a doctor or a medical team that stood in her way. It was the WTA.
"In April, I was asked to commit to 10 or 11 tournaments this summer, and I knew I wasn't in condition to do that," said Davenport on Tuesday after finishing off Katarina Srebotnik in 61 minutes, 6-3, 6-3, in the first match of her comeback. "Because of that, I couldn't take a wild card into tournaments this summer."
The WTA is trying to get tough with lazy players who commit, then pull out of a tournament. It's a good idea. Tournaments devise marketing campaigns around a player's appearance, and when that player walks away, it can bring financial ruin. The Tour wants its stars to play more events, not just show up to prep for the slams.
"One of our biggest problems is players pulling out," admitted Davenport, "and the players look bad when they do it."
So Davenport did the honorable thing. She said she was hurt. She said she couldn't possibly play in 10 or 11 events. Rather than commit and then tank, she didn't commit at all. When she told the tour she was ready, the tour told her to take a hike.
That, friends, is the dumbest thing you can possibly do to your American summer hard court season, let alone to the player who ended 2005 as the No. 1-ranked player in the world and the player who is unquestionably the face of American tennis.
She's 30 now. She didn't look like the Lindsay of old on the Pilot Pen's main stadium court. That's to be expected. As the match wore on, it became difficult for her to chase down balls, reach for overheads or take that volley off a shoe top.
It could take a week for Lindsay to be Lindsay again, or a month. She hardly looks capable of winning seven times in two weeks on the hard courts of the U.S. Open. She wanted to play sooner, but the WTA wouldn't let her.
"I targeted this tournament as the time when I knew I would be the most ready," she said. "I wanted to play in the summer, but the tour wouldn't let me. Was it a hindrance? No. A distraction? Yes."
She said the WTA went back on a deal. She said the WTA wouldn't let her practice her profession. She considered a lawsuit, but decided against it.
She has won three Grand Slam events, an Olympic gold medal and was No. 1 in the world, and still the WTA decided that Lindsay Davenport, a model citizen in the sport and a player who has forever been without scandal, was the player it chose to use as an example.
She is the face of American women's tennis, and the WTA slapped that face.