Successful Davenport can't avoid limelight


August 7, 1998

CARLSBAD -- A lone person sat in the room, a room that was dark, cool and soothing. Lindsay Davenport was left all by herself for minutes before the press realized she had even made her arrival.

Of that tranquil scene yesterday, she said, "It was nice and quiet in here."

The tranquil scene was fitting. Davenport may be the No. 2-ranked tennis player in the world, but beside the brash youngsters who grab the headlines, she slips into the background, which bothers her not at all.

"I like the position I'm in," Davenport said yesterday after defeating Lisa Raymond 6-1, 6-4 in her opening assignment in the Toshiba Tennis Classic at La Costa Resort and Spa. "I don't really like the spotlight. I don't want to grab the attention."

On a day when form held, Davenport was joined in the quarterfinals by Venus Williams and Nathalie Tauziat. Williams dealt Chanda Rubin a 6-3, 6-2 defeat. Tauziat struggled before handling Amy Frazier 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.

In last night's featured match, defending champion Martina Hingis moved into the semifinals, requiring only 49 minutes to dispatch South African Joannette Kruger 6-1, 6-3.

As for Davenport, she is the antithesis of the girls who are grabbing so much attention today. Let Hingis sit confidently at No. 1. Let Williams boast she'll one day supplant Hingis. Let Anna Kournikova grab magazine covers in her skimpy skirts.

"They're all outspoken," said Davenport. "They all have distict attitudes. Their personalites are very much out there. They're kind of in-your-face."

Not Davenport. She prefers a quiet seat in a restaurant. She could do without the interviews. She wore a cross around her neck yesterday. She laughed and poked fun at herself, once correcting herself for using a double negative in a sentence.

"Oh, that's bad English," she said.

Before last year's U.S. Open she was known mainly as the tall (6-foot-2-1/2), heavy (she's listed at 175 pounds) girl with the powerful groundstrokes who won the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games but hadn't done much in the majors.

But she reached the semifinals at last year's U.S. Open. She advanced to the semifinals at the Australian in January and reached the semis again at the French.

Blending into the background now is becoming more difficult.

"I'm still in the public's eye," said Davenport, who grew up in Murrieta and now lives in Newport Beach. "I used to like to watch matches on the backcourts and just walk around. I can't do that anymore."

One reason her ranking has improved is because at 22, she's no longer lumbers on the court. Over the past two years she has lost 25 pounds.

She said she did it sensibly, training harder and cutting back some on her diet.

"I've gotten real good at sharing food," she said. "I order one plate now for two people."

Beef stroganoff is still her favorite meal.

"The highest, fattiest thing," she said. "I don't have it very often."

Less weight has resulted in more foot speed.

"Not too many balls get my me," she said. "I'm never going to be Arantxa (Sanchez Vicario) or (Amanda) Coetzer. But I'm able to run down a few more balls."

Her newfound endurance and footspeed were evident last week at the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford. She rallied to beat Steffi Graf in three sets on Saturday, then came back less than 24 hours later to beat Williams in three sets.

Davenport judged the victory her best tournament win ever.

"Steffi played very, very well that day," said Davenport. "It was a great match. I rose above it in the end.

"I came back the next day and played some of my best tennis. I was down 3-love (in the third set). There were a lot of breaks. A lot of injury timeouts. But I was able to stay mentally tough and gut it out."

To reach No. 1, Davenport knows she'll eventually have to win a major. She has yet to even reach a Grand Slam final, losing those three semifinal appearances.

"Maybe everything overwhelmed me," she said.

Dreaming about the day she wins a major, Davenport says she'll fight the temptation to rub it in to those who criticized her in the past. About her height. About her weight. About her foot speed.

Crossing her legs and looking very much proper, she said she'll take the high road.

"I think if I win a Grand Slam I'll probably just go in a room and say, "I did it.' "

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