Davenport isn't courting retirement
By Douglas Robson, Special for USA TODAY
A year ago Lindsay Davenport turned up for the start of the summer hardcourt swing world-weary, full of self-doubt and contemplating retirement.
Davenport says a win last year against Venus Williams in Palo Alto, Calif., turned her season around.
By Anja Niedringhaus, AP
Then she tore through July and August, winning four consecutive tournaments before reaching the U.S. Open semifinals and ultimately finishing the year ranked No. 1.
"It's pretty crazy," Davenport says of her about-face at age 29. She has held on to the top ranking throughout 2005, and despite losing to Venus Williams in the Wimbledon final this month, Davenport returns to the place of her renaissance a better, fitter and more self-assured player than when she limped home from England 12 months ago.
"I know it will probably be impossible to win four tournaments in a row again," the Laguna Beach, Calif., resident says. "But I've always played well in California. I've always enjoyed being able to come home and have everyone near me. I'm ready to go. I'm excited to get another chance at the U.S. Open."
Sometimes players get a second or third wind late in their careers, U.S. Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison says, as they mature, play smarter and work harder off the court — all things she sees in Davenport.
"If you can hang in there, you can get that last jolt where it all comes together," Garrison says.
Hardcourts always have been Davenport's forte. She won the inaugural US Open Series last year. The sure footing and true bounce allow the 6-2 American to impose her big serve and laserlike groundstrokes on opponents.
The fast DecoTurf II surface in New York is her best chance to win a fourth Grand Slam tournament title, which remains her primary late-career goal.
Twice this year she has been close. Davenport was up a set and a break before losing to Serena Williams in January in the Australian Open final 2-6, 6-3, 6-0.
Against Venus Williams two weeks ago, Davenport held a match point but could not convert during a 4-6, 7-6 (6-4), 9-7 defeat.
"The disappointment the first 48 hours was immense," says Davenport, whose last Grand Slam title came in the 2000 Australian Open. "But I felt like I played great. Overall, I can look back 10 days later and I'm pretty excited about where I am, the level of my play and how I feel physically."
That hasn't always been the case. Davenport suffered a series of physical setbacks, including knee surgery, before coming back to the tour full time in 2003. Now, approaching her third decade — ancient for most tennis players — she is adding a new chapter to her story.
The personable Davenport never followed the tennis prodigy script. She avoided the tennis-academy route, graduating from high school and attending her prom. Unlike the ranks of players with prominent parents, Davenport's have hardly been seen during her 12-year pro career.
Never one to seek the limelight, Davenport prefers to let her tennis do the talking. And the talk is big. With 78 non-consecutive weeks atop the rankings (sixth all time), 47 career titles, three majors and more than $20 million in prize money (third all time), Davenport has put up Hall of Fame numbers.
If she doesn't get her due, Davenport is unconcerned. She says a life being pursued by paparazzi isn't for her.
"I love it that I am well-known and famous and that I have a hard time dealing with it but not famous enough that I can't go about my ordinary life," she says. "It's the right balance."
Davenport credits her win against Venus Williams in the final of the Palo Alto, Calif., event last year for turning her season around. She had lost to Williams the previous six times.
"It really helped me," she says. "Then I just got going, which I have the ability to do when I start concentrating and playing well and feeling positive. I can get on a roll."
Because injuries have been an issue in some finals losses during the last year — including a lower back injury that hampered her in Wimbledon — and forced her to skip the recent USA-Russia Fed Cup match, Davenport is playing a more limited schedule this summer. She will defend three titles, beginning this week in Palo Alto, along with tournaments in Los Angeles and San Diego. Unlike previous years, she will forgo competition the two weeks before the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29, in order to arrive fresh and rested.
Although she tires more easily of the globe-trotting and is eager to start a family with husband Jon Leach, retirement isn't on the front burner. She already is making plans for the Australian Open in January and is committed to play through March.
"From what people have told me, one day I will not want to go practice and it will be fairly obvious," she says of hanging up her rackets for good. "But right now I still have a lot of incentive and excitement to go back out there and play well and succeed."
Woooooooooooooo! Hope this is for real!