SAN JOSE, Calif. – The retirement talk seems ludicrous now, 12 months later.
Lindsay Davenport, 29, is ranked No.1 in the world and has advanced to the final of two Grand Slam tournaments this year, nearly winning both.
But a year ago, few people were putting Davenport and major tournament finals in the same sentence.
The Russians had started to dominate, the Williams sisters were still lurking and Davenport, not the most nimble to begin with, was suffering from a sore knee.
Frustrated, she hinted about retirement.
Then she won the Bank of the West Classic at Stanford, the summer’s first hard-court tournament, and soon the “R” word was on the back burner.
Davenport reached the U.S. Open semifinals in September and the Australian Open final in January. She advanced to the French Open quarterfinals in May, her best showing in Paris since 1999, and the Wimbledon final three weeks ago. Along the way, she reclaimed the No. 1 ranking she first grabbed in October 1998 and hadn’t held since early 2002.
“It’s been a remarkable 12 months,” said Davenport, the top seed this week at the Bank of the West Classic. “I’m just excited to keep it going and haven’t really thought about stopping at all lately.”
Davenport was just part of the longest women’s Wimbledon final, a breathtaking three-setter that Venus Williams seized after saving match point, the first woman in 70 years to do that there in a final.
Even in defeat, though, Davenport received high praise. She had a chance to close out the match in the second set and might have won had a marathon rally near the end of the third gone the other way.
“She did everything but walk off the winner,” said Pam Shriver, an ESPN analyst and former top-10 player. “So while I’m sure she had some moments of absolute depression and disgust at not being able to win the match, she had to also walk away saying, ‘Man, I’ve got a couple of more of these in me, so let’s press ahead.’ “
Before Davenport can press ahead, however, she has to get healthy. Her back stiffened late in the match against Williams, preventing her from playing Federation Cup matches the next week and World Team Tennis events last week.
“Hopefully, it won’t be an issue for too much longer,” Davenport said, adding that she hopes to be near 100 percent this week.
Williams said Davenport has never played better.
“It is up to her how long she wants to keep playing, but obviously she has the game,” Williams said. “She can play quite a few more years if she wants.”
But once Davenport walks away, Shriver said, “There is no looking back. This is the window. The window shuts, it’s done. I think she’s being pretty smart about it, and I just hope she can go out on her own terms — good play, maybe she ends up slipping a little bit in the top 10, but she stays healthy enough.
“Things for Lindsay have progressed in a natural, nice, orderly way, and I don’t see any reason why it can’t continue.”
Davenport, who is married, won the last of her three Grand Slam titles at the Australian Open in 2000 and was thought to be on the decline as she approached 30.
But her comeback began with the memorable win over Williams in the Bank of the West final, a match many would consider historic had it been on one of the sport’s big stages. It lasted 10 minutes longer than their marathon at Wimbledon; it was a 2-hour, 55-minute slugfest that Davenport won 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4).
You want close? Williams edged Davenport in points that day 142-141.
Davenport, who could meet Williams in the final this week, called the win exciting and “a huge step for me throughout the whole summer.”
Gus Sampras, the Bank of the West tournament director, marveled that Davenport has sustained the momentum for so long.
“It’s amazing that she has been able to put one of her best years together when everybody was talking about her retiring the year before,” Sampras said. “Maybe that spurred on an urgency for her to give it one hard go.”
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