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Lindsay Davenport May Not Be Comfortable With Fame, but America's Top-Ranked Women's Tennis Player Continues to . . . : SHINE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

December 11, 1994|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

On the court, she hits the ball cleanly and hard. Her ground strokes are solid and she shows signs of developing the power in her ever-improving serve to go along with the rest of her game.

Davenport got her early tennis training from Robert Lansdorp and when her family moved to Murietta while she was in high school, she began to work with Robert Van't Hof at the Palisades Tennis Club in Newport Beach, as well as Rolley, who often traveled with her.

Beginning this week, Davenport will work with Craig Kardon, who along with King, coached Navratilova. Kardon will be able to spend more time on tour with Davenport.

The American tennis Establishment is watching Davenport with unmasked excitement. In Davenport they have a star with her feet on the ground who appears to be able to withstand the physical and emotional rigors of the tour.

Davenport, who earned more than $600,000 in prize money this year, does not think of herself as being rich and lives a modest lifestyle with few extravagances.

"Money doesn't blow me away, I make enough," Davenport said. "It's so abnormal. This is the only sport where a 14-year-old is making all the money for her parents and grandparents. It's gonna mess them up, if not now, then in 10 years."

Her parents, Ann and Wink Davenport, say they have made a conscious effort not to raise a "tennis brat." When she travels with her daughter, rather than delivering a pep speech before the match, Ann Davenport will ask Lindsay what movie she wants to see afterward.

Lindsay gets her height from her parents. Ann is 5-10 and Wink 6-8. Davenport does that shrinkage thing that some woman athletes do--she fibs about her height, listing it as 6-2 in the WTA media guide. And she slouches to make herself seem smaller.

Pam Shriver, one of the tallest players on the tour at 6-1, said she sees some of herself in Davenport and knows the pain.

"I see her stooping and I want to tell her to straighten up," Shriver said. "I remember when I was 17-18, I wasn't comfortable with my height. I stood out and I was miserable. In public life, you need a thick skin. No way anyone should be anything but nice to her. She's one of the nicest kids on the tour. She's very popular. But you know what? No one's safe. People will pick."

If she is left alone, Davenport's potential may shine through. Navratilova said she thinks Davenport will win a Grand Slam tournament. If Davenport is allowed to be herself, a funny and outgoing person among her friends, then she might be spared tennis' trash heap reserved for teen phenoms.

If no one else gets it, at least she does.

"I'm uncomfortable with the attention," Davenport said. "I'm not really adjusted to the whole scene. I can walk the street and hear people whispering, 'That's Lindsay Davenport.' It makes me so uncomfortable. I don't handle it well. Some people think that's snobby, but it's really because I'm uncomfortable.

"You have to have someone helping you keep a level head. Otherwise, you'd go around thinking, 'Oh yeah, I'm the greatest. I won a tennis match.' The reality is that it doesn't mean anything to 99% of the people in the world."

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