Davenport faces rising star Sharapova

Updated: June 29, 2004, 8:07 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- This is Lindsay Davenport's 12th year of professional tennis, so she has seen a few rising phenoms in her time. Back in the day, say, the mid-1990s, she was one herself.

On Tuesday, it was Karolina Sprem, the 19-year-old Croatian who had already taken out Americans Venus Williams and Meghann Shaughnessy.

"You never know what to expect," Davenport said. "She's very young, can obviously play great tennis. I thought I handled the situation very well. Got on top of her early in both sets and didn't really allow her to dictate play."

The No. 5-seeded Davenport flogged Sprem 6-2, 6-2 in what amounted to little more than a 52-minute cardiovascular workout. Thus, Davenport advanced to the semifinals here at the All England Club, a threshold she reached for three straight years, from 1999-2001. Her opponent will be another rising phenom -- this one a distinct threat to her with a similarly heavy game.

Maria Sharapova, the 17-year-old Russian, lost the first set to Ai Sugiyama but rallied famously to win the match 5-7, 7-5, 6-1. This is the No. 13 seed's first Grand Slam semifinal.

"She has a big game," Davenport said. "I've always been honest with the fact that I'm a huge fan of her game and how she plays. She serves well and hits big ground strokes. So I hope to take her out of that."

After Sharapova won her match, she seemed overcome.

"These things don't happen every day, especially looking at the first two sets. I was always down and never thought that I could turn it around," Sharapova said. "It's a very good feeling. I'm not going to think about it's destined to be or not destined to be. I just want to keep going."

At 28, Davenport finds herself in a netherworld of sorts. One foot is in professional tennis, where she is still competitive but hasn't won a Grand Slam title in 4½ years. The other is in the real world, where she was recently married and seems eager to start a family.

Knee and ankle surgeries have limited her play in recent years and Davenport admits she doesn't always have a keen desire to practice. There is a good chance, a very good chance, that this will be her 11th and final Wimbledon.

"I don't want this to be some major story," Davenport said. "I can't be making statements like that here now. There's probably a good chance that's the case. I plan in my mind, no matter what, play out this year and then kind of go over it in my mind again."

What will she know then that she doesn't know now?

"I don't know," Davenport said. "It could be next week, it could be six months from now, it could be eight months. I don't believe in announcing a farewell tour and saying, 'Oh, this is the last this place, the last this place.'

"I'm going to walk away when I feel like I don't want to be out here competing and feel like I can really be a factor anymore."

The semifinal matchup has an intriguing subtext. Sharapova is coached by Robert Lansdorp, the man who molded Davenport's game from the age of 9 to 14.

"Robert Lansdorp doesn't get a ton of credit for the players that worked with him," Davenport said. "Pete [Sampras] worked with him for a bit. He had a huge influence on my game, especially the years I was developing my shots and strokes.

"He's been a very important influence in my life. I think he's been the same for Maria."

Davenport has three Grand Slams singles victories on her resumé. The way things have fallen -- injuries and upsets have thinned the field here dramatically -- this might represent her best chance for a fourth.

"It's been an amazing career, such a consistent career in terms of ranking and results," she said. "This is like my 12th year, and to still be successful and still be at the top of the game is a huge accomplishment."

Greg Garber is a senior writer at 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.