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Keeping It Simple with Blair Henley
Tennis Now Q & A: Lindsay Davenport
By Blair Henley
(February 19, 2013) --
At just 36 years old, Lindsay Davenport seems to have it all. In addition to an Olympic gold medal and three Grand Slam titles, the former world No. 1 is a mother of three and a successful tennis commentator.
While in Memphis for an exhibition match, she sat down with Tennis Now’s Blair Henley to talk about her tennis game, her second career, and her newfound appreciation for members of the media.
Tennis Now: How often do you get to practice these days?
: It’s gotten more and more challenging each year. I was playing a fair amount with two kids and then our third child was born last January. That’s kind of taken me off of the tennis court. When I get ready for certain events, I’ll hit the courts more to try to keep myself from looking silly out there. It’s a big difference from going to play every single day to going to play two or three times a month. I always loved the sport. It’s amazing - you get some former players that don’t ever want to play again. I have a lot of friends that were on the tour that are like that. But I’m not there. I like to play. I like to watch it. I like to study it still. I don’t have the time right now, but hopefully in 10 years when my kids are older, I’ll have the time. I look forward to that.
TN: Understandably, some former players aren’t fans of the fact that they can’t do things quite like they used to. Despite that natural progression, do you still enjoy competing?
: Competing, no. Playing, yes. That was always the love hate relationship with me and tennis. It’s the sport I truly love. Competing and playing in front of people was a huge obstacle for me to overcome. I did a good job of that, I guess, but even now I get anxious playing in front of people. I know I haven’t prepared as well as I used to or as well as I should, and you never want to look silly. Of course, people remember players in their prime when they were playing well, so hopefully that spurs me on to practice a little more before a big event.
TN: Does being in Memphis, in a tournament environment, make you miss your time on the tour?
: I loved playing on the tour, but it truly seems like a different life for me. I couldn’t possibly imagine going out there now. With three kids, obviously, that wouldn’t happen. I judge it from where my life is now, and there’s no way I could exist in this environment. But I loved it when I played. I played my first pro event at 15, and I played my last in ‘08 when I was 31 or 32. That’s an incredibly long run. I had my time in the day, and I’m happy to just watch it now.
TN: Transitioning out of professional sport is not always a smooth process, but you’ve made it look like a piece of cake, starting a family and a successful second career in broadcasting (even making a TV cameo on CSI!). Was it as easy as it looked for you?
: Not to minimize it for others, because it is a challenge, but truly for me, I never was about playing in front of people or getting attention. That actually freaked me out when I was playing pro tennis, and it caused me a lot of anxiety. Because of that, quietly stepping away wasn’t that big of a deal. Fortunately for me I met my husband in the middle of my career, and we were together for 7 or 8 years before I retired. I was looking very much forward to being able to settle down (and we always wanted a lot of kids), so that was always very exciting for me. I still dabble in the sport. I never wanted to turn my back on it. After my second child was born, I played two doubles tournaments for fun. That was great, but then I was happy to go back to being a mom again. Covering tennis, I still get to go to the Grand Slams and go to tournaments. I’m lucky.
TN: Are you more or less sympathetic to media members now that you’re working on the other side?
: Way more sympathetic. It’s a shame that we’re in our prime in our teenage or college-age years, or even in our 20’s. You get judged on how you behave. I always like to say to people, ‘Well, if you take something you did in high school or in college, people don’t remember that the rest of your life.’ Unfortunately for the people who play in front of audiences, and those that are in the public limelight, that is a fact. The media’s job, a lot of times, is to point out what’s wrong and to be critical. That’s very tough to take when you’re playing. Now being on the other side, I understand it much more clearly.
TN: How did tennis prepare you for motherhood?
: It definitely helped. My husband always jokes that it helped most with the physical pain of having kids. Of course as an athlete, you go through so much that actually having the kids was a breeze for me. It’s really two different ball games. You think you have such a huge moment in your life when you’re six-all in the third and you have a first serve. And yet, right now, I’m trying to make this decision for my son about what school he’s going to go to. I know that has much bigger ramifications than a tennis match I played 10 years ago. I think I handle pressure situations now off court very well, very relaxed. I think tennis probably shaped me for that.
TN: In your opinion, who is the brightest new talent on the men’s or women’s side?
LD: For the Americans, it’s hard not to say Sloane Stephens after her great run in Australia. People were talking about her before as she was creeping up the rankings. Watching her play, you can see she’s got really easy power. She also has a great personality, so you get the sense that whatever comes her way - the bad things that happen - she can handle it. She has a good head on her shoulders. She’s the frontrunner in my opinion. Madison Keys is another one. I’ve liked her game for a couple of years. It will be interesting to see if she continues to improve, especially these next two years; those will be very critical for her. Those are the first two players, in my opinion, since the Williams sisters that I can say, ‘Okay, these ladies can get into the top 10.’
TN: You get to see a lot of matches. Who do you think is the most entertaining player on tour right now?
LD: Interesting. Well, there are different forms of entertainment. It’s hard not to watch the best of the best play each other. If you’re talking about shotmaking, I love to see Schiavone play. She has great hands, and she is so fluid around the court. On the men’s side, you see Tsonga play and he’s so athletic, yet he has all this power. Federer can make any shot look easy. You’re really spoiled as a tennis fan - these guys in men’s tennis are a joke. The top four, with Rafa coming back now, are amazing. The women now have really solidified themselves in the sense that the players at the top of the rankings are the best players out there. I think it’s a great time for the sport.
See Lindsay Davenport's press conference in Memphis
(Photo Credit: AP/Elise Amendola)
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