The way she tells it, Lindsay Davenport wasn't exactly sobbing on Sunday as she said good-bye to her husband, Jon Leach, and their son, Jagger, at the airport in Memphis. But it was touch-and-go for a few moment there. After all, the 48-plus hour span (it's almost over now, as Lindsay is homeward bound as I post this) is the longest time Lindsay has been away from her 8-month old son.
"It was pretty funny," Lindsay told me at a luncheon and press conference promoting Juvederm, an injectable "dermal filler" and de facto anti-aging product (more about that later). "I never thought of myself as one who would be crying at an airport, but I was pretty emotional when I walked John and Jagger to their gate to help them get on board.
"Actually, John got all mad at me, he was like, 'Lindsay, I've been on a plane a million times, what are you doing?' " Lindsay laughed. "So after seeming them off I went to my gate and put my feet up. I realized I had nothing to do but relax and I was like, Hmmmmm, this is pretty nice!"
It was good to see Lindsay in person for the first time in many months. I don't think she's ever looked better. You may remember that she always looked soft - almost the anti-thesis of a toned athlete like Justine Henin or Elena Dementieva. And she was naturally loose-limbed (the opposite of, say, Maria Sharapova). Now Lindsay is lean and nothing less than swan-like. She's still limber and tall, but gangly has morphed into graceful, and she's poised and seemingly comfortable in her own skin. Over 30 and a mother, she now seems a finished product. This helps explain why Lindsay was asked to join Tracy Austin as a pitchwoman for Juvederm.
I confess up front that I know very little about Juvederm, which was created by the same folks who make Botox (Allergan). This is something I know very little about, although the idea of defending the anti-aging industry and the cosmetic enhancement gestalt appeals to me. Sure it's a big target for a cynic or misanthrope, but why hold it against people that they want to look more attractive, or cling tot their youthfulness? It sure sounds like this Juvederm works; a doctor just shoots the stuff (it's a gel) into your face and it more or less inflates your skin so the wrinkles disappear. One treatment can last for up to a year, and the effect is immediate. It's not like you're filling your face with spent nuclear fuel or possum-liver extract, either - the stuff is said to be more natural than botox (however natural that is).
Tracy and Lindsay have both used Juvederm, and one of the funny moments of the official press conference occurred when a health reporter asked the players to describe their morning post-shower ritual - did they use many creams and lotions or otherwise primp and preen? Tracy admitted that, in recent years, she's become almost obsessive about using the full panoply of sun-blocks, skin moisturizers, anti-wrinkle creams etc. Lindsay by contrast, characterized her routine with two words: "Dry and go." She said that until recently, she kept "little or no" lotion or health products in her bathroom.That was interesting, if un-surprising. Lindsay always has been a down to earth girl.
All in all, they were a cute team, with Tracy playing the worldly older sister bringing Lindsay up to speed on the secrets of the cosmetics sisterhood. I'm not sure how you all feel about Tracy, but I've been liked and admired her forever. Her family took plenty of flak when she became the archetypal prodigy (she was on the cover of World Tennis magazine at age 3 and, when she won her first U.S. Open, she was still given to wearing that red gingham pinafore). But she was incredibly brave and tough, and she matured into a person of substance - principled, honest, humble and hard-working as a commentator for various networks, including USA and the BBC. In three decades, I've never seen Tracy pull a diva move or talk down to anyone.
Anyway, Lindsay and I did get to chat for a while before the press conference got underway. She told me that winning Memphis last week was a big relief to her. Although her comeback took off like a bottle rocket last fall, the loss to Maria Sharapova (in the Australian Open) and the surprising defeat in the first Fed Cup week (Lindsay lost to Sabine Lisicki of West Germany, who's singles ranking is no. 140) had her rattled.
"It was weird," she reflected. "For the most part I've felt great but something happened and I still don't know what. That Fed Cup match was one of my worst, ever - top five of career, for sure - so I went to Memphis feeling some anxiety. Thank God things went really well, and I got my game back. But having said that, it was a fast court, indoors, really ideal for me, so we'll just see what the rest of the year brings."
Lindsay said she was approaching the spring outdoors season with "hope." Those off-key weeks in Australian and San Diego are still playing on her mind. For what it's worth, other players on the downhill slope of career have observed that while they're still capable of playing their best tennis, it's hard for them to play it consistently, and the bad days tend to be a little worse than before. Still, that hardly seems like Lindsay's problem. She's put together too many good days, often consecutively, since her return.
Lindsay is apt to get her first major, prolonged dose of top competition at Indian Wells, Miami and Amelia Island. She admitted that she's more excited about Indian Wells than Miami, the air in the desert is crisp and dry, while the wind and humidity in Miami make the conditions "heavier"than Lindsay likes.
In keeping with some thoughts I posted the other day on the state of the women's game and the seeming indifference of some players to the call of greatness, I asked LIndsay what she thought of the level of competition in today's game. She said, "The challenge hasn't been as big as I expected, but - keep in mind that I haven't played that many of the girls in the top 20. The draws just haven't turned out that way."
Of course, that underscores the theme here: Lindsay was expecting and looking forward to playing Venus Williams in Memphis, but Venus lost to a qualifier. "I haven't been able to test myself one-on-one against a top player except Maria (Sharapova)," Lindsay said. "I was happy to see that she went on to destroy everyone else in Melbourne, too. It does seem like a big drop-off now from the top five or six, and it doesn't seem like they're getting much of a challenge from players ranked from 10 through 20."
Lindsay has felt "like a fish out of water" in the locker room - a place where she habitually spent as little time as possible, going all the way back to her early years on the tour. Now, most of her friends have drifted out of the game. She's somewhat friendly with occasional doubles partner Daniela Hantuchova and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and she'll chat with Venus and Serena Williams, but even with them it's mostly "surface stuff."
"That leaves just me and my babysitter," Lindsay said, with a self-deprecating laugh. "So I'm excited and hopeful that Kim (Clijsters) will come back. I'll have someone with whom I can compare notes."
After her three spring events, Lindsay will play in a very tough Fed Cup tie in Moscow, skip the red clay season, and travel to England to play Eastbourne and Wimbledon. Having missed the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Lindsay's fired up about Beijing - John has never been to the Olympics, while she's a two-time veteran (she was the 1996 gold medalist in the Atlanta Games). After the U.S. Open, John and Lindsay will reassess.
"It's already getting tougher with Jagger," she told me. "Before, I could just hold and rock him in my arms. Now, he's more mobile. So on the three-hour flight from California to Memphis, it was like Oh, my God! I was fighting him not to kick the back of the seat in front of us, all he wanted was stand up, crawl, it was a different story all of a sudden."
Evonne Goolagong, who won Wimbledon after having her first child, Kelly Inala, sent Lindsay a note at the Australian Open, telling her how nice it was to see her playing again after having had a baby. The two former no.1's never did get together ("I wasn't there long enough," Lindsay said), but perhaps they'll have a chance yet.
"I don't imagine I would play too much into 2009," Lindsay said. "But I've been burned before by what I thought were my plans. Mostly likely though, this will be the last year I play."