Tennis: Lofty ambitions of a chilled-out competitor
5:00AM Saturday January 05, 2008
By Terry Maddaford
Lindsay Davenport says she has enjoyed playing in Auckland. Photo / Greg Bowker
If Lindsay Davenport was any more laid back she would fall over. The hottest mum on the WTA tour is also the tallest and surely the most relaxed.
It helps that when she walks on court the player on the other side of the net is shorter - often much shorter.
"I'm so used to being taller it is something I've gotten used to," said 1.89m Davenport, during a break at this week's ASB Classic.
Has she ever played anyone taller? "Yes, my husband, maybe Venus Williams [she isn't] and maybe one other girl but I can't remember her name."
These days she is just as happy talking about her life away from the court even though in many ways she was up there with world No 1 Justine Henin as the WTA story of the year.
Her win in Bali in September came in her first tournament outing in 51 weeks and just three months after the birth of her son Jagger. For the first time, two mothers won on tour in the same year. Austrian Sybille Bammer won at Pattaya City to become the first mother to claim a singles title in more than 17 years.
It is all heady stuff for Davenport who turned professional at 15. That ended any thoughts of going on to college (university), something which bugs her.
"I wanted to go to college but it didn't happen," said Davenport, 31. She turned instead to a life on the court which took her to the very top and one of the most admired players on tour.
"But, I don't think it [tennis] ever consumed me. I like to think my life has maintained a balance throughout."
Away from tennis what, apart from being very proud mum, does she do to fill in her time?
"I read magazines, spend time with my dog. I have always had a quiet life."
She also watches television, admitting to being a fan of, among others, The Young and The Restless. "My husband hates it," she says.
The downside of fame is instant recognition and what goes with it.
"By sheer nature of my height, I tend to stand out. Sure, people recognise me and while I suppose I'm semi-famous I can still go to the grocery store without being bothered too much," said Davenport. "Especially when I'm on my own, people are very friendly but now all they want to talk about is my baby."
Davenport and her husband Jon Leach and baby Jagger Jonathan Leach live in a private, gated community of about 500 homes in Southern California with its own beach and tennis courts.
"My husband grew up there and our families live there. It is a great environment."
A perfect place to raise a family and enjoy life away from the tour which can have its moments.
Asked about the "bitchiness" which often reared its unsavoury side, Davenport said it was "much better than in the 1990s".
"The players get along a lot better now."
And the domination by the Russians who have 15 players in the world's top 90 and the Americans just eight including Davenport at 76 (before this week's tournament)?
"In the US, tennis is not seen as being that cool anymore. Team sports like soccer, softball and basketball are more popular now. When I was growing up it was just about tennis and golf and not a lot else."
Such is her standing, Davenport has followed Monica Seles as only the second player on tour to be granted Gold Emeritus status.
Accorded that, Davenport is not required to play the mandatory 17 tournaments year. She is also able to pick and choose where she plays. Baby Jagger dictates that.
"I will only go where it is easy with him," said Davenport who is in Auckland with her mum, a babysitter and her coach. "Like coming here. One direct flight makes it much easier."
At this stage Davenport is looking at playing up to 11 or 12 tournaments this year but is making no firm commitment.
"At this stage I have a pretty good idea of where I will play up to the US Open. Beyond that? I don't really know. Maybe nothing."
Her husband, an investment banker, will meet up with Davenport and Jagger in Melbourne for the Australian Open where she beat Martina Hingis in the 2000 final - one of her three Grand Slam titles. She will then head head home to prepare for tournaments in Memphis and Indian Wells in February and March.
"They are easy to get to," she explains. But don't expect to see her and baby sitting up the front of the plane.
"In the States we fly economy - often right at the back of the plane."
For someone who has won 53 tournaments worldwide and has banked close to US$22 million ($28 million) this might appear strange. And owning her own plane a la the world's top golfers? She simply laughed.
"You have to remember the money you see does not include taxes or the expenses," said Davenport. But, she further admits, "it is invested wisely."
Only Steffi Graf, with a few thousand dollars more, is ahead of Davenport on the all-time money list.
"If she had been playing today, she would be miles ahead. Look at what Justine [Henin] did last year. She won US$5 million. It won't be long before she flies by me."
But Davenport says she is not quite finished yet. From, just a few months ago and a couple of weeks after Jagger was born, playing "baby tennis" at the net, to winning through to another final - in the first lowly tier tournament she has played - Davenport has come a long way.
"It was crazy. I was back on court 11 weeks after he was born. Now I am here. It has been a bit overwhelming."
And, she again promised, if I'm still playing this time next year, I will be back.
"I only play in places I enjoy. And I have certainly loved every minute of our time here."