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Davenport will start a new life

Tennis star is having a baby, and she says she has no desire to return to the court.

December 14, 2006|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

There will be no farewell tennis tour for Lindsay Davenport, no gift-giving ceremonies or tearful partings at the U.S. Open or Wimbledon. Instead, there will be a baby and a life centered on family and friends instead of worrying how hard to hit the next tennis ball.

Davenport, 30, said Wednesday that she and her husband Jon Leach, an investment banker and a former USC tennis player, are expecting their first child in June.

While Davenport hasn't used the word "retirement" yet, she said by phone from her Laguna Beach home that she has no desire to return to the pro tennis circuit.

"From the time I first started dating my husband," she said, "what we both wanted was to start a family. It's happening now and I couldn't be happier. I'm looking at tennis as the former part of my life. I'm starting a new life now."

After ending 2004 and 2005 as the top-ranked player of the year, Davenport struggled this season with a painful back injury. She played only 29 matches and won no singles tournaments. From March, when her back became a real problem, until the JPMorgan Chase Open here in August, Davenport didn't play at all.

"It's become a tougher and tougher battle to get my body ready," said Davenport, who turned pro nearly 14 years go -- in February of 1993. As a teenager who was 6 feet 2, Davenport sometimes struggled with her weight but was stoic when she would read critics who occasionally stooped to calling her "fat."

As she matured, mentally and physically, Davenport devoted herself to fitness training. The effort paid off when she won the first of her three major tournaments, the 1998 U.S. Open, by beating top-seeded Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-5. In short order came an emotional 1999 Wimbledon victory that included a finals triumph over Steffi Graf and a 2000 Australian Open title. Davenport also won the singles gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"My husband always says the Olympics was his favorite moment," she said, "but whenever I'm asked, my mind just rushes back to the U.S. Open. At that moment I felt I really proved something."

Since her marriage to Leach on a Hawaiian beach in April of 2003, Davenport has come achingly close to winning another major. She lost to Serena Williams, 2-6, 6-3, 6-0, in the finals of the 2005 Australian Open and then to Venus Williams, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7, in the 2005 Wimbledon final, which many consider one of the greatest women's matches in history.

Davenport also was dominating play at the 2004 U.S. Open before suffering a hip injury that caused her to limp to the finish of her 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 semifinals loss to Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"Some of that is bittersweet," said Davenport, who grew up in Southern California and often trained with Pete Sampras. "But when I look back it's mostly amazing to me because I don't think anybody, including me, predicted I would do what I did."

While Davenport said she immensely enjoyed watching fellow American Andre Agassi announce his retirement and play in front of adoring crowds at September's U.S. Open, "I don't really want that," she said. So Davenport's final pro match most likely will stand as a 6-4, 6-3 loss to top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo in Beijing in September.

Besides her first U.S. Open triumph, Davenport is most proud of her ability to maintain a normal life while being a world-class athlete. She attended her high school graduation, for example. And unlike other top players of her generation, Davenport never traveled with her parents. At most, she brought a coach.

Davenport said her life for now would more closely resemble that of Sampras. Sampras won the 2002 U.S. Open, his 14th Grand Slam title, and never came back. Until he played World Team Tennis this summer, Sampras, who has two children, was gone from the tennis world. "That's more me," Davenport said.

"I want to be a wife and mother now. My husband has been absolutely great over the past three years helping me be the best tennis player possible. I don't want to leave home now."

Davenport was playing some exhibition matches last week back east when her mom, Ann, called.

"She told me on the local news they were promoing a story about a female athlete who surprised everybody by announcing her pregnancy. My mom said, 'I thought you were keeping that secret?' She called back a few minutes later and said it was Lisa Leslie."

Leslie, a WNBA star for the Sparks, said she plans to return to pro basketball and hopes to play in the 2008 Olympics.

Davenport respects what Leslie hopes to do but said it's harder to make a comeback in an individual sport.

"Good for her," Davenport said, "but that's not for me."

diane.pucin@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

By the numbers

A statistical look at Lindsay Davenport's career:

GRAND SLAM FINALS

*--* Tournament Finals Yr. won Australian Open 2 2000 Wimbledon 3 1999 U.S. Open 2 1998

*--*

RECORDS

* Singles: 716-188 (51 titles)

* Doubles: 355-110 (36 titles)

* Earnings: $21,763,653

* Australian Open: 55-12

* French Open: 33-11

* Wimbledon: 48-11

* U.S. Open: 60-15

SEASON SINGLES RANKINGS

*--* 1991 339 1997 3 2002 12 1992 159 1998 1 2003 5 1993 20 1999 2 2004 1 1994 6 2000 2 2005 1 1995 12 2001 1 2006 25 1996 9

*--*

ACCOMPLISHMENTS

* Voted by the International Tennis Writers Assn. as a joint winner of the 2004 women's Ambassador for Tennis award.

* Voted by journalists at the 2000 French Open as the winner of the Prix Orange, for international essence of fairness, kindness, availability and friendliness.

* Named the U.S. Olympic Committee's female athlete of the month for July 1999 after winning the women's doubles and singles at Wimbledon.

* 1998 and 1999 Women's Tennis Assn. (WTA) player of the year.

* 1998 Tennis Magazine player of the year.

* 1996 International Tennis Federation (ITF) world champion in women's doubles.

* 1998 ITF world champion in women's singles and doubles.

* Won Olympic gold medal in 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

* Named in 1993 the Rookie of the Year by both Tennis Magazine and World Team Tennis.

Source: wtatour.com

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