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TENNIS LISA DILLMAN

The Yearning for Hingis, Davenport

July 19, 2002|LISA DILLMAN

It didn't happen every day, certainly. But at the French Open, and with increasing frequency at Wimbledon, a reporter would start thinking about Martina Hingis and her ability to say anything about anybody.

Sometimes you would hear a reporter say, "I miss Martina Hingis."

In reality, missing Hingis also meant feeling the absence of Lindsay Davenport. The players are linked, after all, having mostly held the top two spots before Venus and Serena Williams ascended.

Hingis, 21, and Davenport, 26, also balanced each other off the court. It seemed as though it was the job of Hingis to stir up controversy, and then it was Davenport's assignment to put the events into calm, mature perspective.

So when they missed the French Open and Wimbledon--Hingis recovering from left ankle surgery and Davenport from right knee surgery--their absence loomed larger. With the two players having been on crutches, you could say the crutches for the media were gone.

Hingis' future appears uncertain--though there are reports she may seek a wild-card entry to the U.S. Open--but Davenport's injury exile ends this weekend as she will represent the United States in Fed Cup against Israel before the California hard-court events at Palo Alto, San Diego and Manhattan Beach.

"I'm not really expecting to come out and start winning these tournaments right away," Davenport said Thursday in a conference call. "The injury is out of my mind already. I haven't felt in the last few weeks that I shouldn't go for a shot because of my knee. In the beginning, it was tough to push yourself to jump up for that overhead or to go wide."

Davenport has been off the tour since the season-ending championships in November in Munich, Germany. She injured her knee playing against Kim Clijsters in a third-set tiebreaker in the semifinals of that tournament. Though Davenport won the match and regained the No. 1 ranking, she could not play the final against Serena Williams.

She knew immediately it was a serious injury.

"I'm in my room absolutely bawling," Davenport said in a earlier interview at her tennis club in Newport Beach. "[Coach] Robert [Van't Hof] comes in and he's not sure if I'm happy. He's like, 'What's wrong?' It was so weird, such a bizarre way to end the season."

The hardest part for her was missing the Australian Open. Instead of playing in a tuneup in Sydney, she went to Colorado to have surgery performed by noted specialist Dr. Richard Steadman. At first, Davenport was stunned by the result of the MRI exam.

"The radiologist said, 'Well, you've done it this time,' " Davenport said. "I've had about 20 MRIs on about every possible body part, and it's always been, 'Oh, you're fine.' This time it was, 'You're going to need something done.' I was like, 'Are you kidding?' "

Shortly after the surgery, Davenport was doing rehabilitation on the knee, and spotted Chanda Rubin coming out of surgery. Rubin was able to return in time for the clay-court season.

Davenport wasn't so lucky. She spent nine weeks on crutches, and had her knee placed for eight hours each day in a machine that straightened and bent her leg. Shortly before the French Open, she was cleared to resume practicing at full speed.

"I've always had confidence I was going to be OK," she said. "I haven't had any setbacks, which has been phenomenal. In any surgery, you can have swelling. I have no reason to think it won't be OK. I've had to take it slow.

"It was good I started that way. After the first week, I had blisters, my shoulder hurt. Isn't that crazy?"

Months later, Davenport managed to find a positive element about her long layoff.

"I do think that this will prolong my career,'' she said. "The break has helped me to play probably a couple of more years than I would have. It's been refreshing in terms where I miss tennis a lot. When I was in the hospital, everything went through my mind, 'OK, I've got to get back. I really want to come back and do well again. I don't want to end my career this way.' "

Davenport took issue with an observation on the conference call that her initial expectations might be too low.

"Well, you probably weren't on crutches for nine weeks," she said. "I want to do great out there. I'm not coming back to lose in the first round, and I'm sorry if you took that out of it. But I'm not going to over-expect anything for myself and think I'm going to win the first tournament back.... That's just setting yourself up for failure."

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