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Davenport Earning Her Degree as Pro : Tennis: Murrieta Valley High senior is knocking on the door of top 10 as she readies for Evert Cup.

February 20, 1994|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lindsay Davenport turned professional during her junior year at Murrieta Valley High last February, with the goal of breaking into the top 50 during her first year on the Women's Tennis Assn. tour.

It took her all of two weeks.

Davenport, quickly gaining a reputation as one of the tour's hardest hitters, is on the verge of the top 10 as she enters the Evert Cup, which starts Monday at Hyatt Grand Champions in Indian Wells.

Davenport, 17, launched her pro career in the Evert Cup last year, reaching the quarterfinals. The next week, she upset Gabriela Sabatini in the round of 16 at the Virginia Slims of Florida and moved to No. 48 in the WTA computer rankings--after starting her pro career at No. 99.

She hasn't been out of the top 50 since, peaking at No. 12 two weeks ago, when for seven days she was the top-ranked U.S.-born player on the tour.

"It's really kind of been amazing," said Davenport, currently ranked 14th.

Still in school--she will graduate in June during a trip home to Riverside County between the French Open and Wimbledon--she has won two tournaments and earned more than $300,000.

Davenport, Tennis magazine's 1993 female rookie of the year, started the new year by winning a tournament in Brisbane, Australia, and reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, her best showing in a Grand Slam event.

"She's definitely up and coming," said Mary Joe Fernandez, who lost to Davenport in the round of 16 at the Australian Open. "She's a very strong girl and hits the ball extremely hard."

Gigi Fernandez said Davenport has developed "a forehand as good as Steffi Graf's."

Lynne Rolley, director of player development for the U.S. Tennis Assn., said Davenport's potential is unlimited, adding: "She could be a No. 1 player."

Her rapid rise has come as a shock to Davenport.

"It's all happened kind of fast," she said. "Every week, it just seemed like my ranking kept going up. I don't think you can predict that."

It might come as a surprise to those who know her parents, Wink and Ann, that Davenport has achieved such success in tennis and not in volleyball.

At 6 feet 2, she is a towering figure on a tennis court.

Her father, who is 6-8, played on the U.S. Olympic volleyball team in 1968, worked as a volleyball referee in the 1984 Los Angeles Games and is now secretary of the international referees committee of FIBA, the sport's international governing body.

Her mother, who is 5-10, is commissioner of the Southern California Volleyball Assn.

One sister, Leiann, 33, played volleyball at UC Irvine, and the other, Shannon, 20, plays at St. Mary's College.

Her parents, though, urged Lindsay to try another sport.

"Her (youngest) sister was playing volleyball, and we didn't want the two of them competing against one another," her father said. "We wanted them to develop their own habits and their own competitiveness."

Her mother had recently started playing tennis, so Lindsay, 7 at the time, asked if she could play, too. Until two years ago, the family lived on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, not far from where Tracy Austin grew up.

Robert Lansdorp, a coach who had worked with Austin, also tutored Davenport.

"He taught her great fundamentals," Ann Davenport said.

Davenport was 14 when the USTA asked her to join the junior national team.

A rapid growth spurt--about six inches in two years--affected her coordination and left her muscles weakened, but didn't keep her from improving.

Davenport started thinking about turning pro when she began to dominate her competition at the junior level. She swept the singles and doubles titles at the National Girls' 18s and Clay Court Championships in 1991 and won the Junior U.S. Open in '92.

"Pro tennis was never a goal," she said. "It was kind of more like a dream. I always really wanted to go to college and play college tennis. It just turned out that I improved really quickly and was ready to play pro tennis."

She made the move after reaching the third round of the '93 Australian Open as an amateur.

Her mother said: "She came home and said, 'I've been doing some thinking and if I want to get any better, I have to move up to the next level.' It came as a shock. We weren't quite ready for it."

Her daughter was.

Although she has continued to climb in the rankings, Lindsay Davenport sees plenty of room for improvement. Despite her size, she is reluctant to charge the net.

"I'm pretty much a baseliner," she said. "I've got to work at coming in, and I have been doing that the last year a little more.

"I can improve on a lot of things. First, my fitness, so I can get faster on the court. That will be a big key--if I can improve that. I'm trying to improve my serve and make it a really big weapon. It's gotten better in the last year, and it can still get better."

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