A slimmed-down and fired-up Lindsay Davenport is stealing the
show on the women's tour
She's tall and blonde. She's a personable Californian, and she's
at the top of the profession. But rest assured, Lindsay
Davenport wasn't the reason for Regency Enterprises' recent
successful $120 million bid for worldwide television rights to
the women's tennis tour. No, in this age of style over
substance, Regency is hoping to capitalize on the sport's soap
opera appeal, in particular on the sassy, brassy 'tude
brood--bold and beautiful teenagers with names like Kournikova
That leaves little room onstage for a self-deprecating
22-year-old whose idea of a good time is playing peekaboo with
her infant niece. But if Davenport gets less attention than Jan
Brady, she doesn't mind. "I think the new generation of players
is great for the game," she says, "but their style isn't mine.
I'm totally happy if the spotlight's not on me. I love that I
can do anything and no one bothers me."
She may not have that luxury for long if she sustains her
current level of play. After beating Marcia, er, Martina Hingis
4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the final of the Acura Classic in Manhattan
Beach, Calif., on Sunday, Davenport is just 444 ranking points
from replacing Hingis as the WTA's top gun. "I'm playing some of
the best tennis of my life," says Davenport, who at week's end
had won 12 consecutive matches and three tournaments in a row.
"Everything is flowing, and the ball is coming off my racket
cleanly. If I've ever been in a zone, this is it."
Since Davenport turned pro in 1993, her flat, pace-laced ground
strokes have been MACH3-sharp. But this year her conditioning is
finally sharp too. By practicing what she calls "portion
control" with her favorite delectables (pancakes, chocolate cake
and her mom's beef Stroganoff), she has slimmed her 6'2 1/2"
frame by 25 pounds. That, combined with a daily ritual of
sprints and basketball footwork drills, has allowed her to gain
a step in quickness. "Lindsay is totally unpretentious and laid
back," says her coach, Robert Van't Hof, "but when she wants to
achieve something, her work ethic is unbelievable."
Though Davenport will never be confused with a golden retriever
like Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, it's increasingly rare for her to
fail to get to a ball. In the quarterfinals of the Acura, Natasha
Zvereva, in need of an updated scouting report, attempted nine
drop shots against Davenport. Not only did Davenport reach each
one, but she also won all nine points. Davenport, the WTA's
second-ranked doubles player, also has added some wattage to her
serve and, with varying success, has been coming to the net more
often. "Lindsay's just playing great tennis," says Monica Seles,
whom Davenport defeated in straight sets in the Acura semis. "I
think it's going to be tough for anyone to beat her on hard
courts this summer."
Davenport's weight loss has paid other dividends. Aware that
other players cruelly called her Dump Truck behind her back, she
used to wear an operatic frown on the court, which did nothing
good for her confidence or her Q-rating. "It hurts when you're a
teenager and people say you're too fat," she says. "Now I feel
good about how I look, and I'm taking that out onto the court
with me. My confidence level is at an alltime high, and I
definitely feel I'm ready for a breakthrough at the U.S. Open."
It has been, to be sure, a long time coming. Since turning pro in
1993, Davenport has won an Olympic gold medal, 17 tournaments and
nearly $5 million in prize money, but she has yet to make a Grand
Slam final. "I've had some distractions in the past," says
Davenport, whose game suffered during the bitter divorce of her
parents over the past two years, "but I'm totally committed to my
career right now." By year's end tennis's anti-prima donna may
well have the No. 1 ranking to show for it.
THE MAKINGS OF A CHAMPION?
Marcelo Rios's reign as No. 1 won't be remembered as a golden
era. He vaulted to the top of the ATP computer rankings on March
30, becoming the first No. 1 never to have won a Grand Slam
event. After playing one Davis Cup match for Chile, he was
felled by tendinitis in his left elbow, and his incumbency
lasted less than a month. On Aug. 10 Rios again moved to No. 1,
after Pete Sampras lost at the du Maurier Open. But the next day
Rios lost in the second round of the ATP Championships in
Cincinnati to Daniel Vacek, a doubles specialist ranked 53rd in
singles. He was typically gracious in defeat: "I don't like
playing at night." Added Rios, who's fast gaining a reputation
as the most egregious tanker since the Exxon Valdez, "I don't
think he beat me because he played better. I just missed a lot
of shots." Still, the vagaries of the ranking system being what
they are, Rios held onto the top spot when Sampras lost in the
ATP final to Patrick Rafter.
U.S. Open Preview?
RAFTER ON THE RISE
Goo-goo-eyed female fans may hold signs that read, PAT RAFTER,
WE'LL SEE YOU AFTER! But since Rafter won last year's U.S. Open
and became an overnight sex symbol, his postmatch demeanor has
often been glum. After starting 1998 at No. 2, by Wimbledon,
Rafter had dropped out of the top five and endured an
ignominious stretch of five losses in six matches to foes such
as Brian MacPhie and Sjeng Schalken. "There are a lot more
pressures on me now than a year ago," he says. "It's hard to
deal with everything and not let it affect your game."
He's learning. After blitzing through the du Maurier Open two
weeks ago without losing a set, Rafter beat Pete Sampras for the
first time in five years to win the ATP Championships on Sunday.
By laying claim to two Super Nine events in as many weeks,
Rafter picked up more than $700,000 and 242 ranking
points--putting him only 171 from the top spot--and emerged as a
solid pick to successfully defend his title at Flushing Meadows.
"When you're playing like this," says Rafter, who has won 10
consecutive matches, including five against top 10 foes, "you
almost don't know how to lose."
He Said It
DISS AND THAT FROM AGASSI
Andre Agassi may be an elder statesman of U.S. men's tennis, but
he could stand to take a crash course in diplomacy. At a
tournament in Los Angeles earlier this month, Agassi dismissed
Justin Gimelstob as "a player with the potential to be in the
top 30." Groused Gimelstob, "I don't know why Andre can't be
more supportive. He's definitely shown me disrespect
Gimelstob isn't alone. Another young American, Vince Spadea, was
dissed by Agassi after losing to him at the Lipton Championships
in March. "Vince should do more with his game," said Mr. Image
Is Everything. "Right now he's a classic journeyman." The remark
gave Spadea motivation for his second-round match with Agassi in
Cincinnati last week. "I wanted to prove to Andre what I could
do," said Spadea after exacting revenge, 6-2, 0-6, 7-6.
That prompted Agassi to change his tune. "Journeyman isn't an
insult--it speaks for his results and not his potential," he said.
"Vince is playing like I always expected he could."
COLOR PHOTO: JAN SONNENMAIR/AURORA Take that By beating Hingis in the Acura, Davenport moved within striking distance of No. 1. [Lindsay Davenport playing tennis]
BY THE NUMBERS
2 Teenagers in the ATP's top 100: Argentina's Mariano Puerta,
19, is 61st, and Russia's Marat Safin, 18, is 74th.
5 Teenagers in the WTA's top 20:
No. 1 Martina Hingis (age 17),
No. 5 Venus Williams (18),
No. 10 Patty Schnyder (19),
No. 15 Anna Kournikova (17),
No. 20 Serena Williams (16).
3 ATP Tour players with top 20 rankings in both singles and doubles.
10 WTA Tour players with top 20 rankings in both singles and doubles.
5 Defeats Martina Hingis suffered in 1997.
6 Defeats Hingis has suffered since mid-May.
7 Americans ranked ahead of former No. 1 Jim Courier (whose
ranking is 68th):
Pete Sampras (No. 2),
Andre Agassi (8),
Michael Chang (21),
Todd Martin (28),
Vince Spadea (42),
Jan-Michael Gambill (59),
and Jeff Tarango (60).
17-0 Sampras's career singles record against Italian players, one
more reason for U.S. coach Tom Gullikson to cajole him into
playing the Davis Cup semifinals against Italy next month.
88 Ranking of former UCLA player Justin Gimelstob, who, after
upsetting Patrick Rafter at the ATP's stop in L.A. last
month, proceeded to woof, "This is my house!"