Davenport hopes to drape Olympic gold around her neck once again
Since her return, Lindsay Davenport has a singular goal: to return to the Olympics, draped in red, white and blue, and return home with new hardware. And no one understands the road necessary more than the 1996 gold medalist.
"One of the goals is trying to win a medal at the Olympics," said Davenport, leaning down to kiss the top of 7-month-old Jagger's head as he nestled into her lap. "And my motto is any color, any event."
It seems Davenport, 31, has been around the tour forever -- she was only 16 back in 1991 when she became a full-time player. Therefore, she clearly understands the road necessary to make the Beijing Games a reality.
And to be sure, Davenport is no Olympic neophyte -- she already knows what going for the gold is all about. The three-time Grand Slam champion had the honor of having the grandest of Olympic prizes draped around her neck at the Atlanta Games in 1996. Her interest in being an Olympian started very young and was fostered by her father, Wink, who played on the 1968 U.S. Olympic volleyball squad.
Returning to the tour in the fall of 2007 after an 11-month absence, Davenport met with immediate success, going 13-1 in singles matches. She won two titles: Bali, where she beat the top two seeds in Jelena Jankovic and Daniela Hantuchova, and Quebec City. Seeing that success was coming quickly, Davenport took the first step toward an Olympic berth by telling U.S. Fed Cup captain Zina Garrison that she was available for Fed Cup throughout the 2008 season, a prerequisite to be considered for the Olympics.
Believing not only that Davenport would be an asset to her Fed Cup squad, but that she was capable of fulfilling her Olympic dreams, Garrison quickly added the SoCal native to the Fed Cup team playing Germany in the quarterfinals this past weekend in La Jolla, Calif.
"It gives her something to strive for and the timing has worked out," said Garrison of Davenport's hopes of going to Beijing. "Timing is everything to when she had the baby, that her body is back in shape and she started by winning some matches. I think she's going to have a good summer."
After winning her third title since her return at the Auckland tournament the first week of the 2008 season, Davenport's incredible luck tarnished a bit when she fell to eventual champion Maria Sharapova in the second round of the Australian Open. And she didn't have the best of Fed Cup outings against Germany. She went into the weekend not having lost a Fed Cup match since 1994, but was defeated in the opening match by little-known Sabine Lisicki before regrouping to beat teen Julia Georges in her second singles match. She then teamed with Lisa Raymond to defeat Ana-Lena Groenefeld and Tatjana Malek for an eventual 4-1 U.S. victory and a trip to Moscow to face Russia in the Fed Cup semifinals in April.
While Davenport might no longer have her heart set on Olympic gold, admitting that scoring silver or bronze would be a huge thrill, she insists it's actually not all about taking a medal home.
"To me it's more about the experience and being an American and cheering all the other American athletes on," Davenport said. "You realize what you have in common and every athlete has stuff in common no matter what their sport is like. And you have so much respect for any athlete in any sport -- it could be archery, it could be a marathoner -- it doesn't matter. Anyone who is the best in their field, you know what it took to get there for that person, all the sacrifice. It's kind of like an instant sorority or fraternity for all of the American athletes bonded together for one goal of trying to win medals for your country. You wear your red, white and blue proudly for the opening ceremonies."
In fact, Davenport smiled when asked to describe her remembrances from the matches that delivered her gold medal performance, admitting she has few recollections of a great serve, wicked forehand or any other shot.
"It's so much less about the gold medal and the matches," Davenport said. "I remember being with Mary Joe [Fernandez] and Monica [Seles], who are two of my great friends on tour, being in the village, going to opening ceremonies, hanging out together, practicing together, meeting other athletes and going to other events."
When Davenport announced she was pregnant in 2006 she told Bonnie D. Ford of ESPN.com that she felt her life as a professional tennis player was over: "I feel like the second part of my life is about to begin, and I feel so lucky that if everything goes well, I'm able to go out like this. The timing couldn't be better."
Certainly, her friends believed Davenport was ready to move on, happy with her achievements as a former world No. 1, Grand Slam and Olympic champion. But now that she's made the choice to be a working mother, those within her inner circle are viewing her as an inspiration.
"I was surprised, absolutely," said Fernandez, one of Davenport's best friends and former doubles partner, who said in her wildest dreams she would've never considered playing again after the birth of either of her children.
"I was like 'What are you doing?' I was surprised because she always wanted to have a family and I just thought that was the next chapter of her life and I thought she was ready for it and I think she thought so, too," Fernandez said. "I have so much admiration for what she is doing because I cannot even imagine being in shape -- I'm still not in shape and it's been a long time.
"The Olympics -- that is one of the reasons she came back. She wants to go back to the Olympics and have her family with her and experience it together. Imagine it, she's going to tell her son, 'You watched your mom win a medal' and that's so cool."
Sandra Harwitt is a freelance sportswriter, spending much of her year covering tennis around the world.