Monday, April 11, 2005

Wk.14 - Steady is How She Goes WTA BACKSPIN April 11, 2005 STEADY IS HOW SHE GOES by Todd Spiker I never sing a rhapsodic melody around here about the exploits of a Mrs. Lindsay Davenport, so some good words (and a longer piece devoted to her) are long overdue, I suppose. Fact is, as admirable as her general attitude and actions have been throughout her career, when I've watched Davenport play, I've always found it to be, well, quite frankly, rather boring most of the time. Big serve, concussive groundstrokes (she's one of the pioneers of "big babe tennis," after all)... but hardly the grace of a ballerina. Years ago, when conditioning eluded her, she actually looked downright clumsy at times. While I never have actively rooted AGAINST her, I can't really ever remember a time when I've ever heartily rooted FOR her, either. Maybe it's because Davenport's never had the "it" factor in her favor. She doesn't have the "spectacular gene" in her molecular makeup. She IS an American, and so am I... but that's never really mattered much to me as a tennis fan (sorry, ESPN -- I know that sort of thinking runs counter to the network's tennis programming "mission statement"). Throw in the fact that it's been five long years since Davenport won a slam singles crown (Australian '00), and there's never been anything truly huge to hang a hat on in recent years. Yes, I know she dominated the American hardcourt scene last summer... but what did Davenport do at Flushing Meadows? Exactly. For a "true" top player, grand slam titles are the currency that bankrolls anything resembling a legacy, baby. A career resume will rise or fall on them. Just ask Jana Novotna, who'd had no chance of making the Hall of Fame without her single Wimbledon title... or, in a few years, Kim Clijsters, if she never does find a way to win one. At the moment, there's more "tingle factor" in the notion that Maria Sharapova seems destined to swipe the #1 ranking from Davenport by the end of the spring (the Russian rose to #2 on Monday, closing the gap to 292 points despite Davenport's defense of her Amelia Island title) than whether or not the American will be able to claim that "career-topping" final grand slam title in 2005. Come August and the U.S. Open, which could be Davenport's final major, who doesn't think there'll be more buzz about Jennifer Capriati's expected return from shoulder surgery? It's simply par for the course of Davenport's career (hey, Tiger Woods was great this weekend -- a golf term is a prerequisite for this week, right?), really. At the moment, she's still #1, is tied for the tour lead with two titles, has more match wins than anyone (24, two more than Sharapova, who she bageled in a match a few weeks ago), and has now won four straight matches over Venus Williams (yeah, that's not as big a deal as it used to be, but still)... but Davenport has not, and won't be, the top story on tour at any time this season. She's not even the top story amongst the Americans, as she's always been outshined by the Williams sisters, out-dramaticized by Capriati -- before and after the mugshot -- and out-adored by naturalized American Monica Seles. These days, she's got "Amerussian" Sharapova to contend with. Not that Davenport likely cares too much. She's always held her life together far better than the likes of Capriati, didn't suffer the horrific luck of the once-great Seles, and has never stirred the good/bad media pot like the Williams. She's always played things fairly straight, right down the middle of the fairway (okay, that golf reference was a bit gratuitous). Her numbers speak for themselves. She doesn't have to. She's finished a season #1 three times since 1998. Serena's only done it once, and Venus and Capriati never have. At 28 (29 in June), she's far healthier than either of the younger Williamses (Serena retired AGAIN last week, her third health-related exit from her five '05 tournaments), and seems more likely to have more big wins as the season moves along, too. Still, even on an off day, Serena is more interesting. Again, Davenport likely couldn't care less. Save for a knee injury in 2002, she's been remarkably resilient. Her 47 career singles titles (just ten less than Serena and Venus combined) rank ninth on the all-time WTA list, and she's closing in on becoming the eighth player to notch 700 career match wins. She's at 657 and, if she were to decide to play in '06, she'd be a lock to reach the milestone (hey, remember, 2004 was SUPPOSED to be the end of the line, too). Her three grand slams seem a bit few for a player of her stature (about five would have been a more preferable number), but it was no mere chip shot (golf #3) for her to achieve such an accomplishment. When Davenport's gone, her professionalism will be sorely missed. She, for sure, will leave the game having never been accused of losing interest or allowing her off-court ventures and commitments to overshadow her tennis (as a result, even when it's warrented, one can't help but feel a bit guilty when simply gently chiding her too-easy tendency to get down on herself and wilt in big matches on occasion). Davenport's still out there plugging away, though. She's never been a media darling, a marketing icon or the sport's latest pin-up or fashionplate. She's been something maybe more import -- a true professional in every sense of the word. And that's not to be overlooked in an age when most of her American counterparts are either idling, whining, excusing, withdrawing or some combination of two or more of the options on this list. No matter how important it may be in the tennis world in 2005, a flashy (and/or fleshy) image truly isn't everything. Sometimes, a "boring" one isn't so bad. ====================================== *AMELIA ISLAND, FLORIDA USA (II-GCO)* S: Lindsay Davenport d. Silvia Farina Elia 7-5/7-5 D: Stewart/Stosur d. Peschke/Schnyder ==PLAYER AWARDS== PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Lindsay Davenport ...title #47 came in her fifth final of the season (she's 2-3), as she defended her '04 A.I. crown and continued to hold off #2 Sharapova. It isn't every day that a player has a parade thrown in her honor BEFORE the event... but that's just what happened to Davenport last week. Winning again was the least she could do, right? ====================================== RISERS: Shinobu Asagoe & Nadia Petrova ...Asagoe's win over Anastasia Myskina at the start of the clay season only cemented the 28-year old's late-career strength. In a season where so many non-Supernova Russians have yet to find their footing, at least Petrova is starting to find her game. Last week, she knocked off Jelena Jankovic, Maggie Maleeva and the aforementioned Asagoe before going down to Davenport in the SF. ====================================== SURPRISE: Virginie Razzano ...Amelia Island wasn't the 21-year old Frenchie's best WTA result (that'd be Tashkent RU '04), but knocking off two Top 10 players (Molik & Zvonareva) and one ex-Top 10er (Sugiyama) en route to the SF might mean last week was Razzano's best extended run of fine results ever. ====================================== VETERANS: Davenport & Silvia Farina Elia ...on her way to her second 2005 title, Davenport's victim list included Venus, Petrova and SFE. Speaking of which, the nearly 33-year old, and perpetually undervalued, Italian defeated Serena Williams (who retired after two sets) and added her unlikely name to a very short list of players who've managed to defeat both Williams sisters in the same season (having knocked off Venus in Dubai in the infamous "palm blister" match). ====================================== FRESH FACES: Shahar Peer & Sanja Ancic ...the 17-year old Israeli Peer gave Serena fits in Miami, then did the same to a "bored" (more on that later) Myskina last week. She didn't win either match, but she might soon. Ancic, 17 and from Split, is officially adding her name to the list of Croatian champions. Her ITF title win in Makarska was her first of '05 (and third in her career). And, yes, she's Mario's sister. ====================================== DOWN: Alicia Molik & Anastasia Myskina ...Molik fell victim to Razzano in the 2nd Round. The Steamer is 2-4 in her last six matches. Myskina nearly lost to Peer, but didn't escape Japan's Asagoe in the 3rd Round. She's 9-7 on the year. With the red clay season coming, the Czarina's chances of reaching her goal of becoming the first Russian #1 look to have pretty much evaporated. ==LINK OF THE WEEK== ...okay, so this is a little self-serving. But, it's my column -- so sue me. The "Link of the Week" is to the Backspin Quiz for the 1st Quarter, which can be found HERE. ==THE MIND OF MYSKINA== ..."I played really well that 1st set, but then I got a little bored. I was thinking, 'When is this match going to finish?,' and the next thing I knew I was down 4-love." (Myskina, after defeating Peer despite dropping the 2nd set 3-6) ==MATCHES== 1.QF - Davenport d. V.Williams ...1-6/6-3/6-4. Williams blew, oh, about a million chances to break in the 2nd set and put this match away (how many times can you go up 40-15 and NOT win a game?). For once, though, she didn't rack her brain coming up with an excuse, though she had a ready one handy if she'd needed it, considering she had to finish a 3rd Round match against Marta Domachowska earlier in the morning. ====================================== 2.QF - Farina Elia d. S.Williams ...5-7/7-6 ret. Serena led 7-5/5-4 before spraining her ankle. Still, she held a handful of MP at 6-3 in the TB, but SFE pulled through and Williams retired yet again. Give her credit, though, unlike her sister, who lost to SFE in Dubai, Serena praised SFE's play. ====================================== 3.Final - Davenport d. Farina Elia ...7-5/7-5. Average age: 30 years, 9 months. ====================================== 4.2nd - Myskina d. Peer ...6-2/3-6/6-3. Venus was "bored." Oops, I mean Anastasia. ====================================== 5.3rd - Asagoe d. Myskina ...7-6/7-6. She wasn't bored here, though. ====================================== HM- 1st - Peer d. Stosur ...6-1/6-3. January was such a long time ago. Stosur was 6-3 then, and has gone 4-6 since. ====================================== ==LISTS== **DEFEATED VENUS/SERENA IN SAME YEAR** [2000-05] 2000- Davenport 2001- Hingis 2002- Clijsters 2003- Mauresmo 2004- Davenport, Sharapova 2005- Farina Elia **MOST WTA FINALS** 5...Davenport (2-3) 3...Sharapova (2-1) **DEFENDED TITLES IN 2005** Vera Zvonareva - Memphis Lindsay Davenport - Amelia Island **OLDEST 2005 CHAMPIONS** 32y9m3w...C.Martinez (Pattaya) 28y10m....L.Davenport (A.Island) 28y9m.....L.Davenport (Dubai) **MOST TITLES - DOUBLES TEAMS** 2...Ruano Pascual/Suarez 2...Kuznetsova/Molik 2...Yan/Zheng 2...Stewart/Stosur ====================================== ====================================== *WEEK 15 LONGSHOT* ...of course, I picked Venus & Serena to meet in the final last week. What was I thinking? Venus blows a 6-1/3-3 with break points lead. Serena blows 3 match points and retires. The players that beat them then meet in the final... hmmm, sounds about on par with my picks all season, doesn't it? So, if I'm going to miss on these predictions every week, I figure I might as well be a bit more creative with them, or at least support who I'd be MOST HAPPY to see win. So... CHARLESTON, SC USA (I-GreenClay) 04 F: Venus d. Martinez 05 TOP: Davenport/Dementieva ================================ FINAL: Henin-Hardenne d. Dementieva ...I'm really craving for a Queen Justine-related Backspin column next Monday, so I'll wrap my arms around JHH this week. Of course, in doing so I realize this means that Lindsay will win again. Or Venus. Or Elena. Or Anastasia. Or... well, you get the picture. All for now.

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