Thursday, January 1, 2009

Defending Mrs. Davenport

I fell in pity with Lindsay Davenport in the 90’s when she was a fat chick playing tennis. She was a chunky girl with a big game - a helluva serve and a formidable forehand. Hit the ball to her striking zone and watch out because it would come back blazing. But the trick to beating her was to get her to move. Even having to run down a drop shot or two would have her so winded that she would frequently give up on points altogether.

Back then Lindsay sometimes had a tendency to walk around with her head hanging down, as if trying to will herself into a height that belied her strapping 6 feet 2.5 inch stature. I remember when Pat Cash uncharitably commented that she had the physique to be a shot putter, not a tennis player. And she was quite possibly one of the 80% of WTA players that Richard Krajicek once dismissed as “fat lazy pigs”. Ouch.

I felt for Lindsay back then. She reminded me of every awkward teenager who had not yet grown out of the ugly duckling stage. She reminded me of a beagle, all jowly and hound-dog looking, moping and loping around the court, her head hanging low. Watching her play back then, my friends and I would comment that if only she could find some self-confidence, she would be an unstoppable winner.

But at the same time, Lindsay would periodically conduct these interviews that demonstrated her capacity for assertiveness and a willingness to speak out in the face of injustice that was not only admirable but also suggested that her problem was not a lack of confidence at all. Her problem was quite simply that she was a fat chick who needed to lose weight and improve her fitness. And she did.

This past summer I got another perspective on the newly skinny and confident Mrs. Davenport after her bodyguard commanded me to get out of the way as she and Hantukova breezed by, their heads held high after losing a doubles match that they did not seem to care about one way or another. I was not impressed with this new Lindsay. Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad she’s lost the weight and managed to attract the marital attentions of the better-looking of the Leach brothers -- but there is a point at which confidence can start crossing over into arrogance and the new and improved Lindsay needs to make sure she doesn’t go there.

At the same time, I was disappointed recently upon reading two sets of criticism of Lindsay Davenport on various tennis blogs and I found myself feeling moved to defend her. First, she was criticized for choosing to enter the Australian Open. Then she was criticized for withdrawing. I’d like to defend her on both counts.

First, the decision to enter. Lindsay Davenport is 32-years-old. When did 32 become the age at which players should “hang their rackets up” to quote one detractor? Over the past year, Lindsay appears to have talked often about retirement. But I am yet to see an interview or a press conference in which she was the one who initiated the topic. It was always someone from the media asking her if she was about to quit. And in response to the repeated questions, she would reply with variations of the word “perhaps”. And by appearing to be hinting at retirement, she helped to attract more criticism. It was not long before some bloggers started calling her out and asking her to quit already.

There is something disrespectful about that. There is something distasteful about telling a 32-year-old woman that now that she is having babies, that should signal the end of her career. Why? Why can’t a woman have a baby, get back in shape, and start playing her sport again? Why must pregnancy mean the end of a woman’s career?

When Lindsay announced that she was going to enter the Australian Open this year, my personal view was that if she felt fit enough to do so, that was all that mattered. And unless her investor husband handed all of her money over to Bernie Madoff, Lindsay is certainly wealthy enough to afford all of the care that her son will need while his mother is practicing and playing tennis.

In addition, I don’t know that players can just willy nilly decide whether or not they are participating in tournaments. It is my impression that players are contractually obligated to play, and that there are fines levied when players do not fulfill their contracts.

And then Lindsay apparently discovered that she was pregnant, and announced her withdrawal from the Australian Open. I guess if you’ve never been pregnant you cannot imagine that it could be possible to not be pregnant in November and then discover that you are pregnant a month later. But this can happen, I swear. It is also possible for a woman to be pregnant and not know it right away. It’s not as if the embryo starts kicking from Day 1, announcing her presence just in time for mom not to embarrass herself by entering a tennis tournament.

I wish Mrs. Davenport all the best during her second pregnancy. Like most healthy women, she will probably be able to continue exercising throughout her pregnancy - that is good for her as well as for the baby. And after the second child is born, it is the mother’s choice to return to her profession or not. If I were she, I would probably choose the option of buying a yacht and hanging out in St. Bart’s with other celebrities. But that’s just me. Mrs. Davenport should feel empowered to make the choices that are right for her and for her family. And tennis lovers can sit back and appreciate her skills for as long as she chooses to demonstrate them.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

There were 2 ladies that won Wimbledon while being a mother....

Regards
Rami
www.FloridaTennisNews.com

Vicki said...

I've been a Lindsay fan since 94 and seen Lindsay in just about every stage of career. I totally agree with your article and it was a well written piece as it had great balance and made a lot of sense. If Lindsay wants to play on after child number 2 good luck to her as she will be retired for a long time.

By the cute cat too.

tennischick said...

thanks for both of your comments.

agreed, Lindsay is not the first mother on the tour. i was not intending to imply this.

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