Tennis: Wimbledon - Davenport takes her first step

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The Independent Online
SHE'S THE No 2 seed at Wimbledon, yet her name rarely comes up in the talk about title favorites: Lindsay Davenport is Miss Anonymous.

It's a role the 22-year-old American has grown accustomed to playing. "I'm pretty much used to it now," Davenport said yesterday after a comfortable 6-2, 6-2 first-round victory over the world junior champion, Florencia Labat of Argentina.

"It's tough, but it doesn't really bother me. I'm just going out there and trying to play well and try not to worry about what is going on in the media."

Much of the pre-Wimbledon attention has focused on the veterans Steffi Graf and Monica Seles and the teenage starlets Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova (who withdrew yesterday with a thumb injury) and the sisters Venus and Serena Williams.

"The younger players have definitely made a name for themselves and they love doing all the media stuff and getting the attention," Davenport said. "It's just in them and they have a great persona and get the fans to connect with them. They're just very public people and people have taken a huge liking to the whole group, and they're very exciting to watch.

"Then there are the older players like Graf and [Monica] Seles who are back too, so it makes for an interesting mix. I'm kind of in the middle and I haven't won a Grand Slam title and I'm not 16 or 17, so I get overlooked."

She shouldn't. This year she's beaten Hingis to win the Pan Pacific title in Tokyo. She's knocked off Kournikova to reach the sem-finals at Amelia Island, in Florida. She outlasted Venus Williams to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open.

Davenport has also made it to the semi-finals of the last three Grand Slams - the US Open, the Australian Open and the French Open. She feels the next step isn't far away.

"It's just a matter of time," she said. "Obviously the US Open is where I'd like to do it. I hope it's just a matter of time and experience. I'm not the one who goes out there and plays great the first time like some of these girls. It takes me more time to learn things to get comfortable and really go for it."

Davenport, still looking to reach her first Grand Slam final, had no troubles yesterday.

Dropping only three points on serve in the second set, Davenport won 63 per cent of the points on her second serve and 67 per cent of the second serve points she returned.

"I was very happy, because you never really know what to expect coming in on grass and not playing a warm-up tournament," she said. "I thought I played very well. I served very well and I was moving pretty well which is the key on grass."

She might not have competed at the pre-Wimbledon tournaments in Eastbourne or Rosmalen, but Davenport was not short of practice. Ten days before Wimbledon she called up fellow pro Debbie Graham and discovered someone she knew had a grass court in his back yard just 10 minutes from her home.

"So I think I actually have the most practice on grass because the weather was so nice in California and this guy had the greatest grass court," Davenport said. "It was the first time I've been able to spend four or five hours a day on grass and really work on things that have troubled me in the past. I feel pretty confident now."

Ilie Nastase, one of the legends of the game hit out yesterday at the modern power game, saying it has too many automatons and not enough court jesters.

Nastase, one of the finest touch players never to win Wimbledon, complained: "These days they are out there to win, not entertain.

"The game was much more human when I was on the circuit. Now if you want a guy's autograph, you have to go through his manager," he said.

To reach some other players an estate agent might be a better bet as for many an affluent Wimbledonian, the world's most famous tennis tournament offers the chance of a free Caribbean holiday or help with the school fees.

Many top players, used to the weekly tedium of hotel rooms around the globe, happily pay up to pounds 10,000 for a chance to rent a private house in Wimbledon.

Specialist letting agencies put the players in touch with the house-owners happy to leave their homes to the players - even if they do also bring bodyguards along to guard their privacy.

Thirty years after Wimbledon launched the open era and professionals were allowed through its hallowed portals for the first time, Rod Laver has no regrets.

The Wimbledon champion in 1961 and 1962 then turned professional. So he had to wait until 1968 before he could return in triumph to tennis's most famous stage.

"No, I don't think I would have won all the Wimbledons that I missed," he said from his home in California, "maybe one or two."

"But you have to remember that if I'd been able to play so would [Lew] Hoad and [Ken] Rosewall and the others who had turned professional."

Andre Agassi is one of many top players who are dead set against a proposal under consideration by the International Tennis Federation to do away with the let rule.

"If you play [lets], I think you're just throwing in a whole other element," he said. "It just seems so random, almost somewhat lucky."

"A lot of times in crucial serves you'll see a let. Sometimes a couple of them in a row. I don't think they should ever play it. I think that's ludicrous... It would be a horrific change in the game."

The rule change will be debated next month at the ITF's annual general meeting in Ireland and could be voted on before the years is over. Designed to speed play, the rule would mean no replay of serves which catch the tape before going over.

Sixteen-year-old Croatian Mirjana Lucic - playing her first Wimbledon - is just getting over a case of chicken pox that kept her out of the French Open.

There's no shortage of strawberries at Wimbledon, and no price increase either.

Again, a cup filled with seven or eight berries and a dollop of cream sells for pounds 1.85. Officials have ordered 24 tons of strawberries for the fortnight. The healthy alternative of yogurt and strawberries costs more - pounds 2.85.

Yesterday at Wimbledon

Sampras and Agassi open with

comfortable victories

Kournikova is forced to pull out with thumb injury

Sam Smith enjoys the finest win of her career over the world No 53

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