Commentary

Davenport's game exuding pristine shot-making thus far

What do you get when you take a 31-year old, oft-injured mom and stick her in the hot and humid temperatures she despises? A vintage-looking Lindsay Davenport, who has headlined Week 1 in Miami.

Originally Published: March 31, 2008
By Bonnie D. Ford | ESPN.com

Ana Ivanovic and Novak DjokovicAP PhotoWinning back-to-back Masters titles for Ana Ivanovic and Novak Djokovic proved to be too onerous.

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- There's a mischievous moon over Miami. The Sony Ericsson Open isn't even half over yet and stars are being eclipsed every day.

Yes, it's probably no coincidence that Indian Wells champions Novak Djokovic and Ana Ivanovic became collateral damage in the week after that tournament. In the endurance test presented by these back-to-back big events, no crown or tiara is secure for long.

Lindsay Davenport led the latest coup d'etat on Sunday with a stunningly one-sided 6-4, 6-2 third-round dismissal of world No. 2 Ivanovic.

Davenport, now ranked 33rd, has won four lower-tier tournaments since her return from maternity leave, but was only 1-3 against top-5 players coming into Miami. Recently, she took stock and decided to try to bang on the glass ceiling in the same hey-why-not spirit with which she's approached her entire comeback.

"I reached a point a month or two ago where I'm like, OK, I'm ready to play the bigger tournaments, play the top girls on a more consistent basis," she said. "I felt more confident in my game, and where I was at.

"So today's obviously the biggest win I've had since coming back. It's quite rewarding."

South Florida has never been Davenport's favorite venue. In fact, she hadn't been here since 2003 for various reasons, including injury, pregnancy and general aversion to the windy, humid conditions. But this season, "I've tried to go outside my little sheltered box of tournaments that I play and try to go to some new cities,'' she said, noting that she might play on -- gasp! -- red clay in Rome this spring simply because her husband would like to see the Eternal City. She's also planning to play an exhibition in Warsaw.

Davenport, who can enter any tournament she chooses thanks to something called a gold emeritus exemption granted by the WTA, is looking like the perpetual top-10 fixture she used to be. Her life changes have liberated her. She's playing with more abandon even as she juggles more responsibilities.

We thought Davenport would give Ivanovic a game. But we weren't prepared to see her in such vintage form, especially after she retired from her quarterfinal match at Indian Wells with a twinged back.

The setback was an unwelcome reminder of Davenport's withdrawal from the same tournament two years ago due to a bulging disc, the injury that made the late stages of Act I of her career so painful. Davenport's coach, Adam Peterson, said she had a few anxious moments before an MRI came back negative.

Davenport put pressure on Ivanovic's serve from the start, nicking the lines with her laser-like groundstrokes. Ivanovic was flat and couldn't adjust. As she languished at the baseline, Davenport rushed the net, converting on a near-perfect 13 of 14 approaches and landing a few highlight-reel backhand volley winners that are the hallmark of her excellent doubles game.

"She played like a top-10 player easily today," Ivanovic said.

However, Davenport could not sustain that level against 13th seed Dinara Safina of Russia. She tumbled 6-3, 6-4 on a windy outer court and said, "[Safina] did everything better than I did. She served very well. She got a lot of balls back and played very smart."

Davenport she wasn't feeling any competitive hangover from the Ivanovic win. She said, "every day you start over no matter who you play."

"For lack of better words, I've not made a fool of myself," Davenport said -- in classic self-deprecating style -- of her renaissance.

Other observations in the middle of the lunar cycle:

Tall tale: If anyone had an excuse for a letdown, it was Kevin Anderson, who bounced Djokovic in the second round. Instead, the 6-foot-7-inch University of Illinois product from South Africa went toe-to-toe with Russia's feisty Igor Andreev on Sunday and fell in three sets. Kudos.

[+] EnlargeMarat Safin
Al Bello/Getty ImagesThe mercurial Marat Safin -- never at a loss for words -- had no answers for qualifier Bobby Reynolds.
Cameo of the week: Fifteen-year-old Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal lost to 16th-seeded Sharar Peer of Israel in the third round, but still made the most of her second straight wild-card invitation to Key Biscayne, a perk accorded to clients of IMG, which owns the event. Larcher de Brito came from behind to win her first-round match, then knocked off 17th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, considered one of the WTA's brightest young prospects. Larcher de Brito will next play a WTA clay-court event in Estoril, Portugal. She is age-eligible to play 10 WTA-level tournaments this season, plus the Grand Slams if she qualifies.

Rebound ace: The ever-theatrical Jelena Jankovic clawed her way back from 5-1 down in the third set of her second-round match against Sweden's hard-hitting Sofia Arvidsson Saturday night only to fall behind 6-3 in the tiebreaker. Jankovic refused to wilt, saving five match points before winning at 12:09 a.m. She returned to her temporary quarters at the Ritz-Carlton and lay wired and awake and aching all over until 2:30, "like a mummy," as she said. She hauled herself back to the grounds a few hours later and chain sawed Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-1 to advance to the round of 16. "I really wanted to get the job done as soon as possible," Jankovic said. If only it were always that easy.

Soliloquy of the week: Marat Safin, on what motivates him to continue playing even though his game continues to lag:

"I had so many injuries. So it's not because I was scratching my things on the sofa and I didn't want to play tennis. Because I've been sick for a couple of years of my tennis career, so it took me quite a while to get back. Unfortunately my knee thing just took a little bit more. [I've] been struggling for three years already from the knee. So it's not like I was partying my ass off on South Beach, because I'm trying. It takes a lot of courage, you know, to try and still go on the court when you're ranked 85 in the world.

"… I had to change my tennis game completely because I couldn't play and I couldn't run for many balls before. So it's kind of difficult. You start to break back and start to play the tennis that I used to play when I was healthy. So it's already for three years. I'm trying and I'm struggling, but it's my decision that I make. I want to do that, otherwise I have no reason. Bank account is pretty full. So trust me, I could do better things than that."

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for ESPN.com. She can be reached at bonniedford@aol.com.

Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.com.