Davenport reborn as 'pregnancy gave me magical powers'

Click to follow
The Independent Online

At 6ft 2in, Lindsay Davenport is hardly likely to pass unnoticed on the women's tour, but the American has caused an extra stir as they gear up for the Australian Open in Melbourne. At the ripe old tennis age of 31 she is embarked on a comeback – with a seven-month old baby in her arms.

Though Evonne Goolagong Cawley and Margaret Court won Wimbledon as mothers more than a quarter of a century ago, the combination of babies and the baseline is a rarity. Among the top group, only the 19th-ranked Sybille Bammer of Austria was a touring mum with daughter Tania, aged six, until Davenport opted to add to $21m (£10.7m) in career prize-money while toting baby Jagger on her travels.

Since returning to competitive play on the World Team Tennis circuit just six weeks after Jagger Jonathan Leach was born by caesarean section on 10 June, Lindsay – who is married to an investment banker, Jon Leach, and is the sister-in-law of former touring pro Rick Leach – has run up a 18-1 record in four WTA tournaments, winning titles in Bali and Quebec City last autumn and the Australian Open warm-up in Auckland (the 54th of her career) last week.

Now the woman whose Australian success seven years ago is one of her three Grand Slam titles and who, with reason, describes herself as "the most dangerous floater in the draw" will be asked a few testing questions about just how far that comeback has progressed.

After what appears to be an undemanding first round against the Italian Sara Errani, Davenport should face the fifth seed, Maria Sharapova, and if she survives that one she could run into the world No 1, Justine Henin, in the quarter-finals. Getting that far, she says, would be "really exciting". When stepping aside from tour involvement in announcing her pregnancy near the end of the 2006 season, Davenport carefully avoided the word retirement, simply saying she had "no plans to return". But six weeks after Jagger's arrival the Californian was back in action – in doubles only – for the Newport Beach Breakers in the comparatively undemanding World Team Tennis league.

"I looked at it as a fun challenge to give myself a little kick in the pants to get back being active," she explained. So well did it go that, with a singles ranking which had dropped to 234 but which is now back up to 52, she entered the WTA tournament in Bali, beating her doublespartner, Daniela Hantuchova, in the final. Next came a trip to Beijing and her only comeback loss so far – to the world No 3, Jelena Jankovic, in the semi-finals – followed by another victory in the Canadian event in Quebec, with her cherished child sharing the journey on every occasion, along with a nanny, physical trainer and coach.

Davenport confessed herself "astonished" at what she had achieved. "I didn't think my body would bounce back as fast as it did after giving birth. Maybe the pregnancy gave me some magical powers." What is beyond argument is that someone who had been regularly plagued by injury to what she termed her "lower extremities" was suddenly fitter than she had been for years. Happier, too. Davenport has enjoyed balancing the life of a new mother with the resumption of her career.

"I will travel with him all the time. I couldn't stand to be away from him even one night. I feel I have the luckiest life in that regard, a really well-behaved baby that sleeps a lot, which also helps.

"The challenge for me is trying to balance everything. I'm very fortunate that tennis only requires a few hours out of the day and that my son can be 20 feet from me when I go to the gym. Obviously the life of a tennis player is pretty selfish, but now most of my decisions revolve around my son and his schedule. Travelling now is all about him and his 10 bottles and his food and his diapers."

The choice of name for her baby has nothing to do with admiration for the Rolling Stones. "Jon and I didn't like the most traditional names. Jagger was always kind of the name we wanted." Nor does she plan to thrust a racket into the boy's hands, which is perhaps why he was not called Andre or Pete.

Right now, however, a tennis racket is again looking potent in the hands of Jagger's mum, and as she prepares for the biggest test of her new-found confidence Davenport can be forgiven a feeling of incredulity to go along with the excitement.