Back to square one for Davenport?

Updated: August 25, 2008

Back to square one?

NEW YORK -- She hadn't played here in two years, and she hadn't played a singles match in almost two months. But 23rd-seeded Lindsay Davenport can hardly be called a stranger to these parts, given that she played in the U.S. Open 16 straight times beginning in 1991 and won it all in 1998.

At the 2006 Open, Davenport, hobbled by back problems, resisted making any proclamations about her future. A few months later, she discovered she was pregnant but still declined to use the word "retirement," saying only that she had no plans to play again.

AP Photo/Charles Krupa

In her past six appearances at the U.S. Open, Lindsay Davenport has made at least the quarterfinals each time.

To paraphrase the old saying, a tennis career sometimes can be what happens when you're making other plans. Davenport, now mother to 14-month-old Jagger, made a comeback in fall 2007, motivated chiefly by the prospect of playing in the Beijing Olympics.

She won four tournaments before her body started to give out on her again. This time, it's a troublesome right knee that has limited her playing time since the spring. Davenport, 32, lasted one match at Wimbledon before withdrawing and had to give up playing singles in Beijing, although she and Liezel Huber advanced to the quarterfinals in doubles. She played doubles again with Daniela Hantuchova in New Haven, Conn., last week.

Davenport, who beat Canada's Aleksandra Wozniak 6-4, 6-2 on Monday, now faces a lot of the same speculation she did two years ago, but said she doesn't feel at all like she's back to square one. As always, she's firmly and pleasantly noncommittal.

"Each time I play a Grand Slam, I always think that, 'Oh, this could be my last time playing here,'" she said. "I've obviously learned that I have no idea what the future kind of holds and what will happen, and I don't make decisions for the future anymore from this day that I'm living in."

Next up for Davenport is 19-year-old Russian Alisa Kleybanova, who's ranked 34th and has had a solid season highlighted by a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon.

Bonnie D. Ford covers tennis and Olympic sports for She can be reached at

Five things we learned Monday

1. Rafa doesn't do easy openers: Being the new world No. 1 hasn't made first rounds easier for Rafael Nadal at the majors in 2008. His 7-6 (4), 6-3, 7-6 (4) win over diminutive German scrapper Bjorn Phau, ranked 136th and playing only his second top-tier match of the season, lasted a minute shy of three hours.

"Win in three sets is always a good result," Nadal said. "I had some difficult moments, so that's going to help me a little bit, be prepared for the pressure moments."

In his first-round match at the Australian Open, Nadal saved a set point in the first and rallied from a break down in the second to down Serb Viktor Troicki, then outside the top 120.

He struggled in the first set against free-swinging Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci at the French Open, and he contested three tight sets versus German Andreas Beck, also ranked beyond the top 120 at the time, at Wimbledon.

2. The gold still glitters for Dementieva: She's not sleeping with the gold medal, but more than a week later, Olympic champ Elena Dementieva is still having a hard time focusing on the task at hand. Mind you, it didn't show much as the fifth-ranked Russian beat Uzbekistan's Akgul Amanmuradova 6-4, 7-5 in the opening match at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Dementieva has long admitted she coveted an Olympic gold more than a Grand Slam title.

"It's very hard not to think about the Olympic Games and very difficult to refocus and get ready for the Open because still all my thinking is there in Beijing," said the fifth-seeded Russian, a two-time Grand Slam finalist. "Yesterday, I was trying to go to sleep, but I couldn't because I was watching the closing ceremony and my mind is still there."

Dementieva arrived in New York on Wednesday after going home to Russia and celebrating for a day with family and friends.

3. Even the pros have bad aim: Argentine Sergio Roitman was just a bit outside with one of his serves in a crushing loss to sixth-seeded Brit Andy Murray, who is trying to recover after an embarrassing first-round exit in Beijing.

Roitman, ranked 107th, hit Murray in the back early in the third set. He couldn't help but laugh, with Murray acknowledging he slightly misread the delivery.

"It was only like a 90-mile-per-hour serve," Murray said. "I think it's probably the first time it's happened in a match, where I was hit by a serve. I couldn't really see his serve that well."

Murray, who won his first Masters title in Cincinnati before Beijing, advanced in just over an hour and a half.

There was more good news for the Brits on Monday: Anne Keovathong downed American qualifier Alexa Glatch to become the first British woman in 11 years to reach the second round in New York.

4. The women's rankings take some getting used to: Jelena Jankovic, somewhat farcically, inherited the No. 1 ranking from fellow Serb Ana Ivanovic on Aug. 11, despite never having reached a Grand Slam final and slumping after Wimbledon. Ivanovic got it back, without playing, the next week, and no fewer than five players -- apart from Ivanovic -- have a chance to become No. 1 by tournament's end.

The void, of course, was created when Justine Henin retired abruptly in May.

5. The shopping is too hard to pass up: Tennis isn't the only thing Olympic semifinalist Li Na is thinking about in New York. She intends to splash some cash on Fifth Avenue -- even if her husband, coach Jiang Shan, objects.

Li dispatched 24th seed Shahar Peer in three sets Monday, dropping one game in the final two.

"I say, 'OK, after the match we have to go there,'" Li said. "He say, 'No. Save the money for me.' I mean, I didn't care about him, so I [will] go myself. Taking credit card. That's it."

-- Ravi Ubha

Elevating Odesnik

Wayne Odesnik has won two five-set matches in his burgeoning career -- both here in the first round of the U.S. Open.

On Monday, he was a rare American success story, defeating Italy's fabulously named Fabio Fognini 2-6, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

"Someone said, 'Hey, you like these fighting matches.' But you either fight or go home," Odesnik said, standing in a hallway beneath Arthur Ashe Stadium. "One of my strengths is endurance and my mental ability to stay in matches."

He credits his coach, Francisco Montana, and trainer Mikhail Zanko, with whom he works every day, for his on-court toughness.

With a modus operandi like that, you would expect Odesnik to be a formidable clay-court player, which he is. He is 7-4 on the dirt this year, including a nice run to the third round at Roland Garros with wins over Guillermo Canas and Hyung-Taik Lee.

Hard courts? Hmm. Although he won a five-setter last year in the first round, he was 1-3 coming into New York. Odesnik has labored this year, going 4-7 and failing to put together back-to-back wins since the French Open.

Odesnik, who is 22 and was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, will not be playing for the United States in next month's Davis Cup semifinal in Spain, but there is an outside chance he'll be there, wearing red, white and blue. He was invited to be a hitting partner, but a groin tear suffered at Wimbledon forced him to decline. The invitation has been extended again, and the left-hander -- think Rafael Nadal impersonator -- must make a decision by Tuesday.

Here's the rub: Odesnik is ranked No. 114 in world, not high enough to guarantee automatic entry into next year's Australian Open. As that is one of his leading goals, he also is considering playing another tournament or two to pull up his ranking.

Which way is he leaning?

"Undecided," he said, smiling.

Odesnik survived when a number of his U.S. contemporaries lost in the first round. John Isner, who reached the third round as a wild card in his debut here a year ago, fell to German qualifier Andreas Beck in straight sets. Wild card Brendan Evans and qualifier Ryan Sweeting also exited.

Ryler DeHeart, ranked No. 261 in the world, recorded a 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over No. 68 Olivier Rochus.

It was the very first ATP-level win of his career -- in his first match at this level. When he arrived in the large interview room, No. 1, DeHeart didn't know he was supposed to sit down behind the large desk with a microphone.

"It feels good -- I'm not going to lie," he said. "I've been working really hard. I've never been given anything in my life."

DeHeart, the winningest player ever at the University of Illinois, qualified his way into the main draw. To put the win in context, DeHeart has played a slew of futures events this year and scraped together $20,603 in winnings. He stands to collect $30,000 for Monday night's work.

The $46,000 check for reaching the third round might not be a realistic goal. His second-round opponent: No. 1 seed Rafael Nadal.

"Next one's an easy match," DeHeart said with a laugh. "That's a tall task. I'm not the guy people are expecting to do that. No one expects me to win. I can just go out and play and go for it."

Although Lindsay Davenport won her first-round match, compatriots Vania King, wild cards Asha Rolle and Asia Muhammad, and qualifier Alexa Glatch all lost to higher-ranked opponents.

-- Greg Garber



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Luck of the dressing room


No. 9 James Blake and No. 11 Fernando Gonzalez aren't likely to meet on court in the U.S. Open -- they're in different halves of the draw -- but they may very well be forced to deal with their personal differences face-to-face because of the lottery that put their lockers in Arthur Ashe Stadium next door to each other.

That would be fine with Gonzalez's coach, Larry Stefanki, who said he thought that's the way Blake's recent beef with the Chilean from their Olympic semifinal match should have been dealt with in the first place.

"If he's got something to say, I think it should be in the locker room, one-on-one," Stefanki said Monday.

To recap, Blake was infuriated in Beijing when he thought Gonzalez failed to acknowledge that a Blake backhand accidentally ticked off his racket in their closely fought third set, an event that went unnoticed by the chair umpire, who called it long.

Blake -- who previously had squandered three match points -- protested vehemently and, in later interviews, repeated his conviction that Gonzalez had acted in an unsportsmanlike manner. Gonzalez, who went on to win the match and eventually the silver medal, countered by saying he didn't know whether the ball had grazed his racket.

Stefanki wasn't in China, but he was aghast at what he saw from afar and speculated that Blake was "venting frustration" at having let the match slip away.

"To go on the international stage and make that big of a situation over one point out of 271, if you look at the statistics, was a little over the top for me," Stefanki said. "It's kind of too bad because it does tarnish Fernando, and being an American, I felt really bad for both of them. I don't think it was really good for the game. You talk about the Olympic spirit and what James was talking about, I'm not totally convinced what he did was the right way to go about it.

"One point doesn't make a match. I felt like the way he handled it was way weird for James Blake, very reactive, very emotional for him. It was a big moment for both. They're good friends, or they were. It blew Fernando away."

Stefanki said he's well-aware that the partisan New York crowds -- Blake was born in nearby Yonkers and grew up in suburban Connecticut -- could give Gonzalez a hard time, and he has talked to the Chilean about how to handle that potential hostility.

"[Gonzalez] is a good guy, and he doesn't have the reputation of being a guy who's going to hook you out of a match. … I've been around Fernando for two and a half years, and he's a class act -- and so is James."

-- Bonnie D. Ford and Ravi Ubha

Who's next?


A record six women have a shot at the No. 1 spot in the WTA rankings simply by making the U.S. Open final -- depending on what happens to the others, of course. Current queen Ana Ivanovic could hang on if she reaches the final, but she also could be supplanted by Elena Dementieva, Jelena Jankovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dinara Safina or Serena Williams. Contrast that with the men's side, where newly crowned No. 1 Rafael Nadal is assured of retaining his position no matter what his results are here.

The top women's slot has been fluid since Justine Henin's retirement in April.

"I think we don't have a player who can be very consistent during the year," Olympic gold medalist Dementieva said after surviving her first-round match. "I mean, it's been ups and downs and some great matches, great performances from a lot of players, from top 10, but we never had anything like Justine who was able to, you know, win every single tournament that she was playing."

Added Davenport, a former No. 1 herself: "It's a little bit unfortunate that you almost rather would have a clear-cut No. 1, or a really fantastic race like on the men's side where the players are winning the big ones to become No. 1.

"It's really tough to be that good for 52 weeks. You know, hopefully it comes down to players that are earning, stepping up and winning the tournament and getting there -- you always love to see the player win to become No. 1."

-- Bonnie D. Ford

A bloom from the desert


Asia Muhammad's last name was spelled incorrectly on her birth certificate, causing her hassles ever since, but this self-assured 17-year-old seems to know exactly who she is. And who wouldn't have confidence after years of mentoring by power couple Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf?

Muhammad -- the best tennis player to emerge from Las Vegas since Agassi -- began playing at age 8 in Agassi's club program, became a top junior and turned pro in March. She briefly contemplated going to college (her parents were varsity athletes at USC). "It was a family decision, but it was mostly my decision," she said. "And I've been doing well, which helps."

Big-swinging Muhammad, a wild-card invitee here, lost to France's Aravane Rezai, 6-2, 6-4, but not without giving Rezai a scare when she went up 3-0 in the second set. "I just started thinking too much and tensing up," said Muhammad, who nonetheless said she felt far more at ease in Flushing Meadows than she did in her maiden appearance in the qualifying rounds last year. "As long as you learn from every match, it's a good match."

Muhammad still has a lot of tennis in front of her at this tournament. She and another burgeoning U.S. prospect, Melanie Oudin, scored a wild-card slot in women's doubles, and she also is hoping to play mixed doubles with Sam Querrey. Next week, Muhammad will be one of the favorites in the junior draw.

-- Bonnie D. Ford

Thumb up


Speaking of Ivanovic, her coach, Sven Groenefeld, said she's primed to defend her status after a summer disappointingly marred by a mysteriously inflamed thumb. Groenefeld said doctors haven't been able to pinpoint the source of the pain -- it's not tendinitis -- but he speculated it might have stemmed from blisters on her racket hand that caused her to overcompensate on her grip. Her chief challenge now is staying positive, he said: "We're dealing with lack of match preparation, we're dealing with emotions," he said. "She sees other players competing, she sees the opportunity. Finally, today she said 'I have to be in the present.'" Ivanovic traveled to Beijing but could not play because of the injury.

-- Bonnie D. Ford

Critics' choice


No. 12 Richard Gasquet vs. Tommy Haas: These two split their only two career matches in 2006, and neither is having a sensational season, although the Frenchman seems to have pulled out of the downward spiral he was in this spring. Still, Haas has a better history here. prediction: Haas in four.

-- Bonnie D. Ford