Davenport's teen-age volley is netting maturing returns

August 31, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- The top American seed walked onto Court 16 yesterday with a slight case of the nerves.

Only a year ago, Lindsay Davenport was unseeded, unknown and unexpected.

At 6 feet 2, 165 pounds, she is neither petite nor svelte, and the casual tennis fan passed her by.

Even the Women's Tennis Association passed over her for most impressive newcomer last year.

But no one is passing Davenport these days.

A quarterfinalist at Wimbledon last month, she is now the No. 6 player in the world and the No. 6 seed at the U.S. Open. She is the top-seeded American -- ahead of No. 9 Mary Joe Fernandez and No. 10 Zina Garrison-Jackson.

Yesterday, in her first-round match, nervous or not, Davenport barely broke a sweat against Italy's Marzia Grossi, who is ranked 204, dispatching her in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1.

Tomorrow, she will face Baltimore's Pam Shriver, who advanced to the second round with a 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 victory over Beate Reinstadler.

"I didn't know until I got here that I'd be seeded sixth," Davenport said. "I looked at that and said, 'Wow!' I'm really happy with how far I've come in a year. I never, never thought I would break Top 10 and then make No. 6 so fast. So I'm still kind of . . ."

Kind of a normal teen-ager is what she is.

Meet Lindsay Davenport, an 18-year-old who is feeling some typical teen-age woe as her friends are going off to college without her.

"I decided to turn pro when I was still a junior in high school, and that pretty much ruled out going to college with my friends," she said. "I really liked schoolwork and studying, but I felt OK about my decision until last week, when my friends started packing to go away to school.

"I'd like to be with them and it's a little scary as we all begin new stages of our lives. But they're there and I'm here, and we're all excited about where we're going."

And then she smiled.

She is neither a spoiled brat nor an under-aged superstar breaking child labor laws.

Shriver remembers her from three years ago, when she drafted Davenport into a small, fun practice tournament here.

"She was the shyest, most unconfident young player I think I had ever met," Shriver said yesterday. "But in three years, she had matured as a person and a player gradually, and it's nice to see that kind of development."

Women's tennis has been criticized for overworking its pre-teen and teen-age players to the point of rebellion.

One reason circulating about why Monica Seles has not returned to the tour since she was stabbed April 30, 1993, in a tournament in Germany, is that she is enjoying her new-found life and freedom.

And Jennifer Capriati, who turned pro at age 14, has crumbled under the weight of being turned into a tennis robot who was expected to support her family.

"I think what's happened to Jennifer is unfortunate," said Davenport, referring to Capriati's arrest for shoplifting and drug problems and her departure from the tour. "I don't think she really was able to have anything normal, like friends or, you know, going shopping or even going to the movies, and that is something I definitely got to experience.

"I really feel, and my sisters and my whole family feel, I have had very normal teen-age and high school years. It's something I would never trade back. It was probably some of the best times so far in my life.

"I think it's really sad that no one let Jennifer do anything normal and really just be a kid. I think that's what she wanted to be and no one would let her."

Davenport turned pro, she said, because she wanted to, after trying it out for more than a year as an amateur.

She went to her high school prom and enjoyed the all-night party in the gym in Murrieta, Calif., the night before she was to leave for Wimbledon.

After pulling calf muscles in both her legs at a tournament in San Diego earlier this month, she recuperated in the company of friends and worked on her tan.

"I am normal," she said. "I have a great fear of becoming abnormal. I mean, my family has always tried to make sure that I do other things outside of tennis. We do things around my tennis so it doesn't control everything.

"And I hope that maybe younger kids coming up will look at me and see they don't have to be out there at 14 and 15.

"There is no way they can handle everything on their own. This is a job, and there is no way a 14-year-old can handle all the pressure and all the things you have to do. You definitely need maturity for this."


Singles first round

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