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 broodbold and beautiful teenagers with
names like Kournikova and Williams.
By beating Hingis in the Acura, Davenport moved within
striking distance of No. 1.
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 Sánchez 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.
Issue date: August 24, 1998