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Bill Dwyre

She's Not Goodbye Girl Yet

September 07, 2006|Bill Dwyre

NEW YORK — Lindsay Davenport hit a backhand into the net on match point Wednesday and soon walked off the court at the U.S. Open like she'd be back. Las Vegas oddsmakers are still huddled over that.

Laguna Beach's Davenport is 30 now, and somewhat of a fading tennis superstar. She has won three Grand Slam tournaments, but the last was the Australian Open in 2000. She is the highest-ranking American woman at No. 11, and when she slipped there from No. 9 a few weeks ago, it was the first time since the women started their tour rankings in 1975 that an American woman had not been in the top 10. That makes her still the best of a sorry lot.

So there should be no hurry to push her out the door.

But the tone of the questioning in her post-match interview session, after she lost a chance to move into the semifinals in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to second-seeded Justine Henin-Hardenne, was somewhat of a see-ya-later. Perhaps the press has been inflicted with Andre Agassi Syndrome.

"Will this be the last we'll see you at the U.S. Open?"

"What were your thoughts, walking off the court?"

"No nostalgia?"

"Over your career, have you collected memorabilia from other players?"

Davenport took it well, understanding that not only was this her 16th consecutive U.S. Open and 52nd major, a lifetime for any tennis player, but that as the injuries have piled up and the chances for more big titles have slipped away, it has been her own references to being near the end and wanting to start a family that have sparked expectations of an announcement.

"When I know, I'll let you guys know," she said.

Right now, Vegas has the early line at 6-5 that she will be back here next year, but shopping for tiny T-shirts and pacifiers. Not playing.

Her match with Henin-Hardenne was like a composite of so many in recent years. Right there, up a service break in the second set, decent shot at gaining a semifinal spot opposite a player who has never been there before, Jelena Jankovic. Then something happens. That is followed immediately by a news conference that puts a happy face on things. For the last several years, one of the best parts of Davenport's game has been her stiff upper lip afterward.

In many ways, who could blame her? She has made about $22 million playing tennis, and much more in endorsements. She was ranked No. 1 at the end of last year, as well as the end of 2004, but part of that was the result of the Williams sisters mentally wandering off and injuries to other top players. But her back went bad at the Indian Wells tournament in March and her appearance here was only her sixth event of the year.

The nudge toward retirement likely comes from other things, despite the stiff upper lip. Since that Australian title in 2000, when it looked as if she had room for perhaps half a dozen more majors on her resume, she has been to four Grand Slam finals, six semifinals and six quarterfinals. That many close-but-no-cigars has to be frustrating.

Her loss to Henin-Hardenne was her eighth in a row, including a default, and her generally upbeat acceptance of that spoke volumes.

"You know, she plays really well against me," Davenport said, "and she played well today when those games were close."

Davenport said that she will leave soon for tournaments the next two weeks in Bali and Beijing and is undecided as to what comes after that.

"I'm not sure what's gonna happen after that," she said. "I'm not positive if I'm gonna go to Europe or not."

Nor is she sure about the next big thing, the Australian Open in January.

"I'll probably know in mid-November, early December," she said.

Finally, she was asked if she had considered, having watched Agassi tell everybody where the end would come, if she might do that too. She shook her head and smiled at her own confusion.

"If I knew exactly what was going to happen and I had a crystal ball," she said, "I'd like everyone to know and everyone be fine with it and be happy."

But she said she still hasn't figured this retirement thing out.

"I'm just kind of following this road," she said, "and seeing where it goes."

Vegas has odds too on where that road will lead. Nine to two, Babies-R-Us.

Bill Dwyre can be reached at bill.dwyre@latimes.com. For previous columns by dwyre, go to latimes.com/dwyre.

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