An old Lindsay article, but good...
Comfortable with Life and Tennis
By Sandra Harwitt
Once upon a time, not very long ago, Lindsay Davenport was the queen of women’s tennis.
There was the world No. 1 ranking that belonged to Damsel Davenport on a number of occasions between 1998 and 2001, including the prestige of ending the 1998 and 2001 seasons sitting comfortably on the throne. There have been 38 career titles, highlighted by the notable possession of the 1996 Olympic gold medal as well as the 1998 U.S. Open, 1999 Wimbledon and 2000 Australian Open.
Although there were no highly sought—after Grand Slam award-winning moments in 2001, Davenport did score a tour-leading seven trophies for the season. She finished the year with a three-tournament, 15-match winning streak at Fielderstadt, Zurich and Linz that not only equaled her results from 1999, but rivaled a similar feat by Martina Navratilova in 1988.
But even before year's end in 2001, an untimely right knee injury had started to take its toll on Davenport, keeping her off the court in April and May. Playing the 2001 WTA Tour Championships in November turned out to be costly for the Southern Californian, who re-injured her knee during a long three—set semifinal victory over Belgian Kim Clijsters, forcing her to forego playing the final against Serena Williams. On January 11, 2002, while her peers headed off Down Under to compete at the Australian Open, Davenport underwent arthroscopic surgery to correct a full thickness cartilage defect in her knee, leaving her on crutches for nine weeks and facing six months of extensive rehabilitative therapy. Rejoining the tour in July of last year, Davenport admits it took quite a while for that old Lindsay tennis magic to reemerge.
Finally feeling good about the state of her game this year, Davenport is back to winning form. She captured her first title since October 2001 at the Pan Pacific (Tokyo) tournament in February and secured final appointments at Sydney in January, Indian Wells in March and Amelia Island in April.
Nowadays, contentment comes not only with a return to competitive form, but in her recent marriage on April 25th to investment banker and former USC All-American, Jon Leach.
"It was so up-and-down, the whole time off that I was in recovery," said Davenport, unconsciously twisting her exquisite engagement ring around in circles on her finger at the NASDAQ-100 Open just a month before her wedding. "It was difficult to step away for all those months, but I did surprise myself about the work ethic I had in doing all the rehabilitation."
Stepping back into champion mode this year came along with a critical change when longtime coach Robert Van't Hof ended their relationship, which had delivered three Grand Slam trophies, opting to reduce his travel schedule and stay at home with his family. Davenport initially turned to then future brother-in-law Rick Leach—the holder of 44 career doubles titles, including a Wimbledon and U.S. Open trophy—to fill Van't Hof's shoes. Despite picking up the Pan Pacific (Tokyo) trophy and reaching two finals, Davenport felt the alliance was flawed and fired Leach in a phone call the Monday after reaching the Pacific Life Open final.
"We split after Indian Wells," said Davenport, who is contemplating going it alone without a formal coach. "It was just not working out. I think I needed someone stronger—stronger in personality and to push me. But we are great together and we're going to be part of the same family for years to come. It was just that on the court, it wasn't clicking."
For his part, Rick Leach disagreed with Davenport's judgment call that the working relationship wasn't working, although he admitted that the family connection kept him from being a stern taskmaster to his pupil. "She felt that she wasn't playing well enough," Leach said. "I disagree. I thought she had a great tournament last week [at Indian Wells] and she moved up from what, 12 [in the rankings] to about six? I guess she expected more. Probably what hurt me the most—my last name. I should have been a lot tougher. But I'm family."
Now that Davenport's journeyed back to top form, little whispers that she might be a player who can contend with the brutal firepower of the Williams sisters are starting to be heard. Overall, Davenport is neck-and-neck with Venus Williams, having won 10 of their 21 meetings, but trails Serena Williams 9-2, with their latest meeting a 6-1, 7-5 semifinal loss at the Family Circle Cup in April.
Former player Pam Shriver, a well-known TV analyst these days, watched Davenport rebound in the second set of the match at the Family Circle Cup and is of the opinion that the SoCal native has the goods to take on the Williams siblings. "I think she can, and all she needs now is a little more self belief that she can. The first set-and-a-half of their match was a total mismatch. Serena was incredibly good but to Lindsay's credit, she competed and waited for that little window of opportunity to open. She needs to remember that she needs to hang in there long enough to seize the moment. Lindsay is capable of big wins over anybody, something she first proved at the '96 Olympics—that she was a big match player."
Serena Williams also considers Davenport one of the players capable of giving her a hard time on the court, although she's been able to post only two wins against the world No. 1. "She's definitely someone who still is up for the challenge," Serena said of Davenport. "I think she's really back to it. Lindsay is just a strong player and she hits a big serve. She moves the ball around very well. I've actually played well against Lindsay in my career. I've really always enjoyed playing Lindsay."
As it turns out, there was an upside to the downside for Davenport about being sidelined while on the road to recovery-she got to experience something of an ordinary lifestyle for a longer period of time than ever before in her adult life. The Laguna Beach resident found she enjoyed life off the road with Leach and their five-year-old Rottweiler, Zoltan, whom she describes as "a baby to us."
"It was nice being home for eight, nine months," Davenport said. "Of course, being on the crutches made it so hard to get around. For about eight weeks, everything I did was curtailed. It was living the simple life and just being dedicated to rehab. You kind of realize when you're at home how difficult it is to go away from friends and family for the long periods tennis players do. I spent some time going online, doing crosswords, which was fine since I'm not the adventurous type anyway, like I don't go skiing or anything."
Sitting with Tennis Life in Miami, Davenport reported that she was hoping for a quiet romantic wedding and that's just what the newlyweds arranged, with the nuptials taking place on the beach in Hawaii. With the festivities behind the couple, Davenport plans on pursuing a new hobby around her full-time travel schedule on the tour.
"I never wanted to be the princess bride," said Davenport honestly. "I think we're just going to go away with family and a few friends to get married. I'm trying to learn to cook, but to be honest, it's not going too well. I can make some bad chicken, but mostly we joke and say I can prepare already-made food. But I'm planning on taking some cooking classes with a close friend so I can get better."
It seems to be a given that when athletes, all patched up after a serious injury, return to their sport, they tend to bring a different perspective to their career. As for Davenport, who turns 27 in June, this is definitely the case, as she's discovered that being both a top player and a well-rounded individual can go hand in hand.
Lindsay Davenport|Elena Bovina|Marissa Irvin|Tatiana Golovin|Mary Pierce|Sesil Karatantcheva|Cara Black|Clarisa Fernandez