Friday, December 22, 2006

Lindsay Davenport Tribute: Part 2



Photos posted by hurricanejeanne over at TAT

By appearance alone, three-time Slam champion, Olympic Gold Medalist and four-time year-end No. 1 Lindsay Davenport never struck me as an athlete. If I didn’t know any better and I saw her in an airport and someone pointed her out as a world-class tennis champion, I’d say, “No way.” She arrived on the scene as a pudgy, clumsy girl who grew into a towering, fit woman.

But there was nothing clumsy about her shotmaking. Considered by many as the best ball striker to ever play the women’s game, I was always in awe of the sound of the ball off her racquet as she struck it. A pure, round pop of a sound that no other player could replicate. Her precision might have outshined even her ball striking. Lindsay would aim for the lines—and paint them, thank you very much—with an eyebrow-raising ability to create angles from anywhere on the court. Her lack of speed (she was often called Turtle, even by her fans) was only a liability against players who could hit as hard, as precise, and run much faster. But those were few and far between.

Lindsay’s greatest talent, though, lay in her ability to outsmart her opponents and exploit their weaknesses without relent. Martina Hingis is often credited with being the smartest player you could see, but I think Lindsay gave her a run for her money in the cerebral department. I’m sure Lindsay had great coaches, but she always seemed to have a game plan, and she would execute it to perfection. No real surprise then that Lindsay’s great strategic mind made her a formidable champion in doubles as well.

Her Achilles Heel? That would be her attitude. Hang-Dog Lindsay, as Pam Shriver was wont to call her, lost many a match she seemed certain to win. Late in her career, however, she dispensed with the bad attitude almost without exception. Unless she faced Serena or Justine, two of her greatest rivals along with Martina and Venus.

Ah, Venus. Lindsay and Venus. There was something about those two. Their matches were almost all instant classics. I posted a few YouTube clips in the first part of this tribute, and whether she won or lost, the Turtle played her best stuff against the Gazelle. Their historic 2005 Wimbledon final when Venus outlasted Lindsay 4-6, 7-6(4), 9-7 is certain to go down as one of the greatest women’s matches of the Open Era.

Off the court, Lindsay was a great spokesperson for women, a great representative for the players, and a great ambassador for the sport. Never one to mince words, she revealed the shenanigans of Larry Scott and the WTA’s inexcusable practice of making the top players commit to events that the players knew they couldn’t play all for turning a buck. But when the events made their eleventh-hour announcements of the players’ withdrawals, it was the players’ reputations that suffered. And the tour had the nerve to perpetrate the fraud that these withdrawals were hurting the tour.

Denied a wildcard to the 2006 Rogers Cup in Montreal, which had already been decimated by a slew of high-profile withdrawals, Lindsay was punished for speaking out. That the WTA executive would treat her with such blatant disregard in the twilight of her career remains unconscionable.

No matter. Lindsay will have the last laugh. She rides off into the California sunset with her husband and await the birth of their first child.

And the tour will be all the worse for the wear.

Raise a flute and toast this great champion on her incredible career.

Be blessed, Lindsay. Be blessed.

You’ve only just begun.

Click here for a comprehensive retrospective on Lindsay’s career.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Craig,

I haven't seen this article until now. Wonderful! Lindsay showed real class and generosity at Wimby 05 final. Despite her painful loss, she acted as she was a big sister of Venus, the way Venus did to Serena. I was not a big fan of Lindsay before that match since I didn't want her to beat Venus. But after that I really admire Lindsay. She is a great tennis player and a great person.

Lan

Craig Hickman said...

Lan,

That was some match, wasn't it.

I was never a big fan of Lindsay's but it was hard not to admire her work on and off the court.

She will be missed.