THE FIRST ONE!!!!!
Lindsay Davenport has a tendency to swear. Not just the odd curse when she stubs her toe or bangs her head, but full-on-four-letter expletive that turn the air blue and shock people.
“I used to swear a lot more than I do now”. she tells ace. “My dad has a filthy mouth. I grew up with it. I have the foulest mouth. I used to swear incessantly. Its terrible. The slightest thing went wrong and I’m like ‘Shit’. But I definitely want to stop. I’d say that over the last few years I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve started to cure my habit. I think I originally admitted to swearing a lot so that I would force myself to stop.“
This is all part of Lindsay’s contradictory personality. She has a reputation of being the nice-girl-next-door, the player everyone gets on with, the person who always has a kind word to say about everyone else. Yet scratch the surface and you can see that she has a mean streak in her.
“People say ‘Oh, you’re so nice’,” she laughs. “Honestly, I can be a total bitch. When I’m playing I get so Pissed off. On court, for sure , you have to have that mean streak in you. My birth sign is Gemini, which is the twins, or two different personalities. I definitely think I have that. The person which you see on court is definitely not the same person you see off it.”
Off court she is almost always smiling and friendly, but you get the impression there’s a permanent sign around her neck that says ‘Don’t mess with me!’
And if you meet her, messing with her is the last thing on your mind. She stands at an imposing 6ft 2 and a half inches tall, in a 175lb frame. And until she sent on her now infamous diet and fitness regime five years ago she was even 30lb heavier than that.
Yet despite her strong personality and physical presence, she always remains surprisingly humble, “I try to keep a very low profile,” she says, “ I don’t really like too much attention and I’d rather not be noticed, saying that, though, it’s not shyness I have. It’s just that I’m not one of those people who loves to open a newspaper of magazine and see myself all the time. I don’t like that at all. I prefer to play my tennis which I love, and with which I’ve been blessed”. When you think that Lindsay is now at the top of her game for the fifth time ( she was first world No.1 for 17 weeks in 1998-99, had another five weeks in 1999, had two more stretches in 2000 and ascended again last November), you can’t help admiring her genuine modesty. “Results should speak for themselves, she says firmly, “ I’ve always had the opinion that if you’re too big a talker, then most of it is hot air anyway. I’ve always thought that if somebody has to go around telling everybody how good they are, then they really don’t believe it themselves. I really can’t believe some of the things that some of the other players say,” Lindsay’s humility is very endearing. She became the national No1 in her age group whilst still at school, but kept her achievement a secret from most of her fellow pupils. “Basically I didn’t tell anyone that I played tennis,” she says, as if it were totally normal for American teenagers to play down their athleticism. “Obviously my friends knew. But I’m not the sort of person to say ‘Oh hi, I’m a really great tennis player’. So I never brought it up. Then when I turned pro at 16 I think I beat Gabriela Sabatini (a former US Open champion) and ended up in the papers, so people at school found out that way. I wasn’t embarrassed, though. Just not too boastful, I guess.”
Of all the nine women to top the WTA rankings since they began in 1975, Lindsay Davenport is probably the least famous. She says she’s fairly well known in her native southern California and other parts of the USA (“I’m not that famous but some people definitely recognise me” , but she’s hardly a Hingis, a Kournikova or a Williams,
“I’ve come at a time when there’s more than one or two great players,” she suggests, “In the 1980s and early 1990s you only really had Monica and Steffi, but now there are so many [great] players. It’s really the first time that you have about seven players going into a Grand Slam with a legitimate shot at winning it, Its not as predictable any more, which has made everyone slightly famous.”
Lindsay is well aware that she could have earned a lot more money through sponsorship deals and endorsement contracts, But- believe it or not - she’s all the more happy for not having sold herself down that path. “I’ve always wanted to concentrate on the main thing, which is tennis, “she asserts. “ I think I’ve stayed pretty true to that and my tennis has benefited as a result, You see players that do everything commercial that is put on a plate, but then they have to worry more about their results. You know, I’ve made more money than I’ll probably ever have to spend in my lifetime. Maybe I’d have made more if I’d have been more high-profile, but money’s not that important to me.”
Indeed, over her nine year pro career, tournament prize money has so far swelled Lindsay’s bank balance by much more than sponsorship or endorsement income. Since turning pro in 1993 she has earned more than £14 million in prize money. Although there is no official figure for her off-court earnings, it’s a lot less.
Perhaps that’s why Lindsay has always been such a vociferous campaigner for women to receive as much prize money as men at the Grand Slam events (at the moment, only the US and Australian Opens give both sexes an equal share of the loot, whilst overall, the ATP offers far more money than the WTA Tour). And, as with all her opinions, her arguments for equal prize money are considered and well thought out
She used to publicly lambaste the former WTA chief Executive Bart McGuire for not pushing hard enough for the same money at Wimbledon and the French Open. Yet she’s rational enough to know that equal pay won’t happen overnight. And she’s optimistic enough to expect it to come eventually.
“The men have had large increases in prize money for many years now.” she states. “I don’t think we’re going to be equal with men straight away because we’re on two separate tours. But I think that all female players need to concentrate on getting our prize money slowly raised and not worry about who’s getting paid what. “It’s not realistic to think about equal pay at the moment, but the women should make sure that pay keeps going up and doesn’t stagnate. We’ve had a couple of years with some great players and we really want to take advantage of the situation the game is in now, so that in 20 years from now everything is still going great.”
This measured opinion is typical of Lindsay. Not for her, the careless (and often ridiculous) comments that many of the WTA players want to blurt out.
The 25 year old from Laguna Beach, just south of Los Angeles , is certainly one of the brighter players on the circuit. “I’d like to think that I’m pretty smart.” she says, wincing at the uncharacteristic boldness of her statement. “I got 1210 points in my SATs (American equivalent of A-Levels) and the highest is about 1600. So I’m not a genius or anything!
“But I’ve always tried to be intellectual, whether it’s reading a newspaper or watching news on television. I always try to read books and solve crosswords and puzzles. I’m not the sort of person to go to some dumb movie for an hour and a half. I’m just not like that.”
When she was younger Lindsay had always hoped to go to northern California’s Stanford University, which is one of America’s foremost seats of learning . But at the age of 16 she was already ranked 20 in the world, so she decided to make the most of her opportunity and turned professional.
She started playing Tennis when she was six years old in her home town of Palos Verdes (a beachfront LA suburb), and used to attend after-school sessions at local tennis clubs. “Then I’d go home every day and play against the garage at my home,” she remembers. “My parents were relaxed about everything and didn’t really expect me to be a tennis player, but I just seemed to get better and better.”
Both Lindsay’s mum and dad were very athletic, In fact, Lindsay was always more likely to be a volleyball player like the rest of her family, rather than a tennis player, Her father, Wink, who is now president of an engineering company, played volleyball for the USA at the 1968 Olympics. Her mother, Ann now head of the Southern California Volleyball Association, played the sport nationally and both her sisters, Shannon and Leiann, competed during their college years.
Lindsay’s parents divorced in the mid-90s, something which, not surprisingly deeply disturbed her. But she still remains very close to both of them. In fact her mother lives just round the corner, Lindsay shared a house with her for four years before she bought her 4,700 sq ft coastal home in Laguna Beach, also in the LA area. “It’s a five bedroom Mediterranean-style house with a private beach for residents,” says Lindsay. “You know there’s a Jacuzzi and stuff!”
Lindsay’s love life is peachy, too. For the last couple of years she’s been going out with Jonathan Leach, brother of former world No.1 Rick Leach. “We’ve lived together for almost a year now,” she says without hiding her obvious affection. “We’re in a very committed relationship at the moment, but there’s no wedding plans just yet! While I’m playing it’s a little difficult to plan too much.
Jonathan, who was on the ATP tour for a year or so, is now an investment banker for the financial company JP Morgan and never has time to travel with Lindsay on the circuit. “He works really long hours,” says Lindsay. “He gets up at five in the morning and gets back between three and five in the afternoon. He’s at the stage where he’s just starting out in his career. It’s weird because I’m almost at the stage where my career’s ending.”
Back in 1996 Jonathan had an ATP world doubles ranking of 229. “We play together sometimes and he can hold his own against me,” admits Lindsay . “It’s a tough match when we play. His serve is about 130mph.”
Despite long periods away from one another, Lindsay and Jonathan are content with the arrangement. “He could easily quit his job and travel with me.” she says. “ But we have our own careers and we want to build our own lives. We do miss each other, but you do get used to that, however bad it sounds. Obviously I want to be playing tennis at this stage of my life, and he wants to do his thing. So it’s fine. Neither of us would be happy not doing what we’re doing.”
Lindsay also shares her house with a Rottweiler called Zolton, (“It’s kind of an eastern European name. He’s a good dog,” When she’s not playing tennis , most of the time is spent with Jonathan and/or Zoltan. “I spend time at the beach,” she says. “I take the dog to the park, I do a lot of crosswords and I try to read. Mostly trashy books, though.”
On the tour Lindsay is certainly one of the more popular players. But she likes her own space. “I’d say I’m friends with every player on the tour and I don’t have any enemies.” she says. “But I do like to keep to myself a little bit on the social side of things. I don’t have that many close friends on the tour.”
But ask the other WTA player what they think of her and you realise Lindsay is just being modest again. In fact she is widely admired by her peers. Corina Morariu, with whom she won the Wimbledon doubles in 1999 and who is recovering from Leukaemia, is one person who knows all about Lindsay’s friendship, loyalty and support.
“I think I have a very easy-going personality” says Lindsay, when asked how she thinks others perceive her. “I laugh a lot and have fun, even though for much of the time it doesn’t come out on the court. Say you’re playing Centre Court at Wimbledon, you’re not going to laugh at a bad line call, or something stupid that [someone in] the crowd says. You have to be very serious out there. Then again, people have to remember that it’s just a job we’re doing. There’s always a time for us not to be working.”
And there it is a gain. As usual Lindsay is careful to stress how normal she really is “Off the court. I’m really just your average 25-year-old,” she insists, “ I like to go out and have fun. A lot of people think that we’re abnormal, but really we’re not.”