A mother of a comeback
Davenport had no idea how far her return would go
Posted: Tuesday January 15, 2008 11:01AM; Updated: Tuesday January 15, 2008 11:32AM
MELBOURNE, Australia -- One of the most compelling stories of the 2008 Australian Open is the revival of Lindsay Davenport's career after the birth of her first child, son Jagger.
In the most anticipated second-round match in recent memory, Davenport, unseeded, will be playing in a popcorn match (a match where even the players like to grab a bag of popcorn and tune in) on Wednesday against No. 5 seed Maria Sharapova.
I caught up with the three-time Grand Slam champion and Olympic gold medalist on Tuesday between practice and baby duties in the players' lounge at Melbourne Park.
SI.com: Did you ever think you would be back playing?
Davenport: No, I never thought I would be back playing. I'm more surprised than anyone else, I can assure you. I considered myself retired, but at about the seven- to eight-month mark in my pregnancy, the thought came to me that it would be such a great challenge to try to come back and play. It was such a rarity in professional tennis and even all sports, so that really intrigued me.
SI.com: Were you surprised that you missed the game?
Davenport: I didn't miss it at first. All my energy was focused on having a healthy baby, and my focus was there solely. I was so excited about having my first child that tennis wasn't on my mind at all. But as time went on, I realized how much I missed the game. It would have been a lot worse if I didn't have something to look forward to, and when I had Jagger, I realized that having one thing didn't mean I had to give up the other. I knew I could be both a good mother and a professional tennis player. I knew there would be challenges, but I wanted to try my best to do it.
SI.com: What have the biggest challenges been?
Davenport: There have been some physically, and some logistically. For example, right now I have a huge match [Wednesday], but Jagger fell asleep in the players' lounge and I don't want to wake him up, so I'll be hanging around the courts a lot longer than I normally would today! Traveling is obviously challenging -- I have to be more selective with my schedule than I would be if I weren't traveling with my son. Physically getting back into shape was tough, but ironically, I feel like since giving birth, I've been getting injured less, so maybe it has helped!
SI.com: Has it been hard getting your focus back?
Davenport: I'm very comfortable admitting that I feel like I have gotten a piece of myself back since coming back. I had nine months where everything was focused on having a healthy baby. I was excited to focus on something that was about me and I had control over. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. Playing tennis makes me happy, which in turn helps me be a better mother and wife.
SI.com: You've won three titles in four events since your comeback last fall. Are you surprised at how well you've done since returning?
Davenport: I have been surprised. I didn't know what to expect. I couldn't have imagined doing so well, so quickly. I've been pleasantly surprised at how quickly things have come and how well I have played. But this is my first Grand Slam. I have been playing lower-level events so far. Tomorrow against Maria will be very difficult obviously, but I'm looking forward to it.
SI.com: Do you think you're a contender for this title?
Davenport: I do. Obviously some things would have to go my way, but I'm in good shape, playing well and enjoying being out on the court. I love playing in Australia. The atmosphere is more relaxed here than any other Grand Slam. The people are very nice, and they have been incredibly supportive of me throughout my career.
SI.com: With this renewed passion for the game, how much longer do you think you'll keep playing?
Davenport: I have no idea. I'm going to keep playing as long as I enjoy it, and I can make it work for me and my family. I do think that coming back now will make it easier for me to leave the game behind when I think the time is right. I will have known that, without a doubt, I gave it everything I had.
SI.com: How will you explain to your son some day what his mother did for a living?
Davenport: Hopefully he'll have plenty of documentation. I'm trying to take as many pictures with him in all these amazing places as possible. He probably has more stamps in his passport than most adults!
Former ATP pro Justin Gimelstob will be reporting periodically from the Australian Open.