Orange County’s Lindsay Davenport had it all—grand slam titles, fame, wealth, and, at 31, her first child. It wasn’t enough.
By David Davis • Photography By John Russo
It’s hard to say what’s most surprising about meeting Lindsay Davenport at her home in a gated community in Laguna Beach—that there’s no clue she’s been a top-ranked professional tennis player for 15 years (not a silver trophy or oversized racket in sight), or that she feels it necessary to introduce herself to visitors with a chipper, “Hi, I’m Lindsay.”
Never mind the 6-foot-2-inch Davenport has grown up in the public eye from the time she was a gawky, power-hitting teen prodigy from up Coast Highway in Palos Verdes. Or, that we’ve watched her triumph in tournament after tournament— 55 so far in her sure-to-be Hall of Fame career, including three Grand Slam singles titles, an Olympic gold medal, and a reported $22 million in prize money (she’s one of the all-time leading money-winners among women players).
But as soon as her guests walk into the sun-dappled living room, it becomes clear why tennis has been usurped in this household. There, on the carpeted floor, 11-month-old Jagger Jonathan Leach gurgles contently in a blue jumper. One tiny hand holds a treasured toy, and a large stuffed animal stands sentry among the baby-related paraphernalia littering the room. With a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean as backdrop, his beaming mother monitors his every move with the type of concentration honed during nail-biting baseline battles.
Young Jagger may not be as quick on his toes as his mom—he’s just figuring out how to crawl—but he has obviously become the ultimate prize in Davenport’s life. “All the clichés that you hear about motherhood are true,” she says while sipping an iced fruit drink. “It’s so overwhelming that you can’t sit and analyze it too much. Sometimes, I can’t even fathom that he’s my child. It almost seems like a dream to me.”
The dream came true for Davenport and her husband, investment banker Jonathan Leach, in June. Now, Jagger and the daily miracles of babyhood, burping and diaper-changing included, consume the couple’s lives. Davenport says she wouldn’t have it any other way. “You get to the point where he totally recognizes you and smiles, and that is just so great,” she says. “I can’t believe how fast he’s developing. New stuff is happening every day, and it’s so neat to recognize all the parts of my husband and myself in him.”
Davenport’s obvious contentment—and devotion to her son—wear well. Tucked into a pair of snug blue jeans and a black Nike top, she looks as relaxed as any first-time mom can be. As she eats lunch and Jon changes out of his suit and tie, she chatters happily about how they chose Jagger’s name. (Hint: It’s not what you think.) But even as the couple eagerly anticipate Jagger’s first steps and words, Davenport has taken on another challenge. She has delayed her retirement plans to become a working mom.
It’s an about-face that surprised Davenport herself. After announcing her pregnancy, she assumed she was finished with competitive tennis. After suffering through an injury-plagued season in 2006, she told one reporter she couldn’t fathom resuming her career after giving birth. “I was mentally retired,” she says. “I thought that, having played for 15 years, I was headed toward settling into a more quiet lifestyle. Jon and I were so ecstatic to be pregnant and have our child. That was all we could think about—how excited we were and doing everything we could to stay healthy.”
About six months into her pregnancy, Davenport journeyed to Indian Wells to watch former opponents play in the prestigious tournament near Palm Springs. What kicked in was the very thing Davenport worked so hard to develop during her storied career: the competitive fire that burns within top-tier professional athletes. For the first time, she pondered returning to the court, provided the baby was born healthy and her often-injured body could bounce back from the trauma.
“She’s a fighter, and she’s got a strong heart,” says Bud Collins, a columnist for The Boston Globe. “Something inside her said, ‘You haven’t done all you can do.’…I would love to see her win one of the majors, either Wimbledon or the U.S. Open. That’ll top off her Hall of Fame career.”
Reality check time: The last mother to win a Grand Slam tournament was Evonne Goolagong Cawley.
In 1980. Jagger emerged via C-section on June 10, two days after Davenport’s 31st birthday. Shortly thereafter, she began plotting her comeback, with support from her husband, a former tennis All-American at USC who works in private banking services at Morgan Stanley in Newport Beach. (His parents live in Laguna; his father, Dick Leach, was the longtime coach of the Trojans.)
Davenport says she drew inspiration from a friend, Orange County singer Gwen Stefani of No Doubt fame, who has toured with her baby, and from the experiences of two top-ranked Australian players, Margaret Court Smith and Cawley, who both made post-pregnancy comebacks in the 1970s. “Women do it in sports all the time,” Davenport says, noting that L.A. Sparks basketball star Lisa Leslie recently delivered her first child. “I was always taught to go after my goals, and so I figured I would pursue this and see how it all panned out. I was excited about the challenge because it hadn’t been done in tennis anytime recently.”
About two weeks after Jagger’s birth, she returned to the court and began light volleying with her Orange-based coach, Adam Peterson, and with her husband on weekends. Within a month, she was playing doubles against the Newport Beach Breakers in the World TeamTennis league. As she intensified her physical regimen, she discovered her body was readjusting itself to the “huge metamorphosis” of pregnancy and childbirth. Her chronic back pain, caused by two bulging discs, dissipated; Davenport says her body “feels a whole lot looser.”
“When you play professional tennis, you never have weeks when you’re injury-free,” she says. “You always have little ones around, like hip flexors and groin problems. But having a year off from the grind of playing professionally has helped my injuries heal up. I feel great.”
Davenport resumed tournament play in August. Despite the long layoff, she found she hadn’t lost much speed on her dynamic serve or her hand-eye coordination at the net as she took three titles on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour. In January, she played in her first Grand Slam tourney, losing in the second round at the Australian Open. But she bounced back to lead the U.S. team to a recent qualifying victory over Germany in the Fed Cup competition in La Jolla. In March, she won the Cellular South Cup in Memphis, which was her fourth tourney since giving birth.
“Our expectations at the beginning were low,” her husband says. “So when she started to have some success, when she started to beat some top 10 girls and to win some tourneys, it was unforeseen and totally positive.” Adds Peterson: “Now it’s about, what can she accomplish?”
Spoken like a coach. But Collins, the tennis writer, suggests Davenport has “entered another stage of her career, and I think she’s got it all in perspective. She’s a competitor, so she’ll work hard, but she’s also in position to do whatever she wants. She can lean back and enjoy this.”
Davenport doesn’t dispute the idea that she has readjusted her goals and that she’s no longer measuring success solely by wins and rankings. “This isn’t about, ‘Oh, I haven’t done this in my career, and now I need to try and do this,’ ” she says. “I just thought, I get to start all over again without all the pressures of staying on top and worrying about being the best. I have nothing to lose because this is about the journey.”
Still, with motherhood now ranking as Davenport’s No. 1 priority, she crafted a practice schedule that allows her to spend maximum time with her son. In the mornings, she wakes early with Jon and Jagger. After Jon leaves for work, she stays with Jagger until about 10. She leaves him in his nanny’s care and practices with Peterson for two hours, often at the courts within the gated community. She trains for another two hours with Norman at the gym before returning home in the early afternoon in time to hang out with her son after his nap.
In a pinch, Davenport leans on her family (her mother and two sisters live in the area) for baby-sitting chores. “You have to be super-organized for everything to flow smoothly,” she says. “I realize that I’m a lot more fortunate than the average woman who has to work from 8 to 5. I’m lucky because I get to spend a lot of time with Jagger and still do my job.”
Coach Peterson says luck and avoiding injury are only part of it. “She’s always been a very hands-on, very organized person, and that hasn’t changed. Now, her time is limited because she’s juggling so many things and so she makes use of her time efficiently.”
Davenport admits she feels guilty at times about leaving Jagger. Those feelings are tempered by advice given to her by her mother and friends. “They’ve told me that there’s always guilt, no matter what you’re doing. That’s natural. So then, the best thing that you can do when you do spend time with your baby is to make sure that you’re there 100 percent.”
“There” is a relative term for a touring tennis pro. Traveling with Jagger to tournaments has proved to be as challenging as competing against girls half her age. So far, their passports include stops in Bali, Quebec City, Beijing, and Auckland. Jagger, she says, “usually just sleeps on the plane.” During these trips, whenever she’s practicing or playing, Davenport counts on her nanny to mind Jagger. “I’ve tried to play as smart a schedule as I can for the sake of my son,” she says, “and so far he seems to handle it very well. I don’t want to go too crazy with the traveling.”
That means being picky about which tournaments she enters. She bypassed the French Open and the European part of the tour in the spring and early summer because the travel demands were too
taxing. Instead, she plans to play primarily in the States—including California-based tournaments at Indian Wells, Palo Alto, and Carson—and to go abroad just three times: to Russia for the next round of the Fed Cup (she’ll make that trip without Jagger), to England to compete on the grass courts ofWimbledon, and perhaps to Beijing to represent the United States at the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
Davenport won a gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and she admits the Olympics weighed heavily as she pondered her return to tennis. “Beijing was a big reason for wanting to come back,” she says. “I’m lucky that it just happens to be an Olympic year. In 1996, I was 20 years old, so it’ll be neat to go back in 2008 with Jon and Jagger. It’s amazing when I think about the circle—and the progression—that has happened in my career since Atlanta.”
After Beijing, Davenport will compete once more at the U.S. Open at Forest Hills. Then, having made one last circuit of tennis’ most storied tourneys, she and Leach will decide her future.
Davenport says her son’s happiness will be the major consideration. “As Jagger gets older, it’ll be harder to travel with him, so I don’t think this’ll be an extended comeback. Jon and I will debate it in the fall. Right now, we’re playing it by ear.”
She does know she intends to embrace motherhood again. “Jon and I have such a blast with Jagger,” she says. “We’re both eager to have more kids, so that’ll be the next big challenge for us. We can’t wait."