Davenport enjoying the game again

Updated: August 31, 2004, 9:08 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Lindsay Davenport's career and the trajectory of the WTA Tour have traced similar curves in recent years. She has spent much of the last two seasons sidelined by knee and foot injuries. Women's professional tennis has limped right along with her.

"It's been an interesting 12 or 15 months," Davenport said. "The [WTA] Tour was going with a lot of momentum and we were really going to a place we had never gone before. And then in the last year, with the amount of tennis that players are expected to play, we just got decimated by injuries. We definitely lost a lot of our momentum.

"It's kind of an interesting time to see when people play, who's healthy, who is able to play at 100 percent."

The funny thing? At 28, Davenport is the oldest of the serious contenders here on the women's side. She is also, against all odds, the one fielding the fewest questions about the state of her physical and mental well-being.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, ranked No. 1 and the defending champion, missed nearly four months with a serious viral condition and is nursing a cold after winning six straight matches at the Olympics. Kim Clijsters, who lost in the Open final to Henin-Hardenne, is recovering from wrist surgery. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, have been slowed by knee and wrist injuries, respectively. Jennifer Capriati's intensity seems to have been on the ebb of late and Amelie Mauresmo has never won a Grand Slam event.

When Davenport withdrew from last week's Pilot Pen tournament, she cited tendinitis in her left wrist. Fear not, Davenport fans. On Tuesday, she admitted it was a case of too much activity.

"Health-wise, I think I felt really great all season," Davenport said. "Only one tournament I had to pull out from, and that was really from overplaying -- and that's too many matches, which is always a good thing."

No one in the men's or women's draw came into the U.S. Open playing better. Davenport won the last four tournaments in which she appeared and had won 17 consecutive matches.

Make that 18.

On Tuesday, she handled Lubomira Kurhajcova, a 20-year-old Slovakian, in the first round. Davenport was down 2-3 in the first set when she found some traction and won 10 of the last 11 games. Davenport displayed the big serve (she won 26 of 28 points on her first serve) and forehand (36 winners vs. only seven for Kurhajcova) that make her so dangerous on these fast hard courts.

Davenport has said repeatedly since Wimbledon that this may well be her last season. She got married last year and is looking forward to starting a family. Her motivation, lately, has wavered at times. At this year's tournament in Strasbourg, France, in mid-May, it happened again.

"I had a really tough week," Davenport said. "Was not happy playing. It was a really small tournament. My attitude wasn't good. I just remember after that tournament saying, 'OK, you're either going to play when you like to play and enjoy it and not let these things bother me.' I think it was a turning point. "It seemed to carry over and me just not wasting energy on outside things and things you can't control."

The retirement talk, she said, may have made it easier to play better tennis.

"Maybe took some pressure off me just to think like, 'Oh, who cares what happens now,'" Davenport said.

After losing to eventual champion Maria Sharapova in the semifinals at Wimbledon, Davenport came to Stanford a week later wondering what to expect from her game. She got to the final, but Venus Williams was waiting on the other side of the court. Davenport won in a third-set tiebreaker.

"I really thought that first win in Stanford was a huge stepping stone," Davenport said. "Came through in a really tough final. And then kind of since then I've really felt really confident no matter what the situation's been in matches, felt like I've been able to lift my game when I've needed to.

"And just kind of stop thinking out there. Everything just seems to be flowing."

The next week in Los Angeles, Davenport was leading Venus 7-5, 2-0 when Williams retired. And then Davenport crushed sister Serena 6-1, 6-3 in the final. Davenport torched French Open champion Anastasia Myskina in the San Diego final, losing only two games, and dispatched Vera Zvonareva in the championship match in Cincinnati, 6-3, 6-2.

And now, Davenport is at the venue where she played her first Grand Slam match, way back in 1991. The place where she won her first Grand Slam title, in 1998. Would it be too much for students of symmetry to hope for a bookend title in what will probably be her last Slam appearance?

"Obviously, the comparison would be '98 where I won three [straight tournaments coming in] and I think lost in the semis the week before the Open," Davenport remembered. "But obviously, that kind of lifted me through the two weeks of playing here.

"I can be nothing but supremely confident and happy with where I'm at. Gosh, I hope history repeats itself."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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