Recent Player: Lindsay Davenport — Gifted young pros often pay lip service to the idea of living a “normal” life, yet almost all of them decide that they don’t want to do it all that much, not when there are opponents to squash and money to be won. Young Lindsay was a true exception.
A true prodigy, at age 15 she had a win over veteran pro Sandrine Testud in a WTA event and later played in her first U.S. Open — a tournament she would win seven years later. Yet she remained in school and a full three years — and many pro matches and a few titles later — she declined to train for Wimbledon (where she was seed No. 9) because she didn’t want to miss her her high-school graduation ceremony Murietta, Ca.
After flinging her mortarboard high into the air, Davenport caught a redeye to London, arriving early Sunday morning, and on Tuesday she won her first round match.
To Davenport that was no big deal. While self-effacing and at times painfully self-conscious about her height and weight (6-foot-2, she shed some 30 pounds about five years into her pro career), Davenport had a sharp wit and a down-to-earth personality. She was the girl next door who never did become a fame monster.
The combination of Davenport’s self-consciousness and mellow, SoCal attitude almost certainly cost her a number of Grand Slam titles. She won three in her career, lacking only a French Open to capture a career Grand Slam. She also won the gold medal in singles at the Atlanta Olympic Games. Still, this was a relatively modest output, given that Davenport also finished the year ranked No. 1 on the WTA computer four different times — a record that puts her in the heady company of only Chris Evert, Steffi Graf, and Martina Navratilova.
Davenport, now 37, who was known for her beautifully grooved and disciplined, flat strokes, was ranked No. 1 on eight different occasions for a grand total of 98 weeks. She won 55 singles and 38 doubles titles in a career spanning 17 years. She missed all the Grand Slams of 2007 while she was on maternity leave. After giving birth to a son, Jagger, she returned to play one more year, during which she won two events — Auckland and Memphis. But she made it as far as the third round only once. She conceived another child and that ended her comeback at age 32.
Davenport’s finest moment, in my eyes at least, was the epic Wimbledon final she played against Venus Williams in 2005. It was a glorious, see-saw three-setter choc-a-bloc with exceptional shot making by both women. Williams ultimately won it, 9-7 in the third, but Davenport retired with a 14-13 head-to-head edge. She fared less well against Serena Williams, who finished ahead, 10-4.
Recent Player: Chantal Vandierendonck — This Dutch woman’s pioneering accomplishments in wheelchair tennis loom particularly large given that she’s considered a “high para,” a designation indicating that her disability is significantly higher than that of some other competitors. Now 41, Vandierendonck was the ITF world champion three times, and she raked in five Paralympic medals, including a singles gold when the wheelchair game was a demonstration sport at the 1998 games in Seoul, Korea.