The unknown No1
By Michael Winkler
Lindsay Davenport is ready to prove her status. (Allsport)
HERE'S a pop quiz question, sports fans: who is the No1 ranked woman in world tennis? Um - is it Martina Hingis, who has spent more time at No1 than Abba? Bzzzt.
Okay - how about Venus Williams, who won Wimbledon and the US Open last year? Bzzt again. All right, so it's got to be Jennifer Capriati. She won the Aussie and French Opens, she's a great comeback story; let's go for her. Bzzt, bzzt, bzzt.
The top-ranked player at the start of 2002 - just as it was from October 1998 to February 1999, in July and August 1999, in April and May 2000 - is Lindsay Davenport.
Oh yeah. Her.
It's one of the curiosities of the sport that Davenport continues to receive so little recognition for her ability or her achievements. In arguably the toughest women's sporting competition on the planet, she has twice been year-end No1 (1998, 2001) and twice year-end No2 (1999, 2000), yet she remains relatively anonymous.
Admittedly, there is scope for significant eyebrow-raising about how Davenport managed to be the top player of 2001 when she failed to win a grand slam - but Hingis sat atop the rankings pile for month after month, and she hasn't won such a tournament in almost three years.
Davenport herself has the grace to say that Venus is the moral No1. The elder Williams sister played only 12 tournaments in 2001; Davenport and Capriati played 17, Hingis played 18. Venus won 46 matches and lost five in 2001, while Davenport went 62-9. "If Venus played even close to a full schedule, I don't see right now how anybody else could be No1," Davenport says.
The 25-year-old Californian won seven titles in 2001, but they weren't exactly gilt-edged. She hoisted the silverware at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, the State Farm Classic in Arizona, the BAMI Championship in Eastbourne, the estyle.com Classic in Los Angeles, the Porsche Grand Prix in Fildestadt, the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich, and the Generali Open in Linz. Good solid stuff, racking up the ranking points, but where is the sparkle?
For Davenport, the sparkle is in the consistency. She keeps getting the job done. Take a close look at her record and you find that Davenport owns a career head-to-head advantage over all but four players. She is up 7-2 on Capriati, up 10-9 on Venus (although Williams has won eight of their past 10 clashes), up 12-10 against Hingis, 9-2 over Monica Seles, and 4-0 versus emerging Belgian Justine Henin.
The four players who have a career edge over Davenport? Denisa Chladkova is up 1-0 after her Wimbledon victory in 1997. Rosanna Neffa-de los Rios is 1-0 after a walkover at the 2000 Olympics. Conchita Martinez is 5-4 up, although Davenport has won four of their past five meetings. Most interestingly, Serena Williams holds a 7-2 advantage, and has won seven of their past eight matches.
Still, the statistics tell us that Davenport just keeps on winning - rarely dominating the competition, but working hard enough and playing smart enough to take the chockies more often than not. She hits her groundstrokes very flat and very hard. She has significant physical advantages, standing somewhere around 190cm, and with greatly improved fitness and footwork. She is also hugely underrated as a competitor.
"People who think I'm nice would be surprised to know what goes through my head on the court," she has said. "I'm a total bitch out there. I get so pissed. Even when I'm playing a friend and she hits a winner I'm like, 'who the hell do you think you are?' That's how I think. I can't help it. If you look at my face, I look like the meanest girl out there."
"Lindsay is totally unpretentious and laid back," Robert Van't Hof, her long-time coach, says, "but when she wants to achieve something, her work ethic is unbelievable."
So she doesn't attract much attention? So there aren't huge "Go Lindsay" fan-clubs? So she doesn't receive many headlines in the showbiz world of professional tennis? So she couldn't care less. She'll just keep winning, thanks.
I've found the last part extremely funny!!!! You Go GIRL!!!!
Hope you'll be fine for AO!!!