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Archive for Monday, June 26, 2000

Davenport attracts fans at Wimbledon

June 26, 2000

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— It's a busy night at a neighborhood Indian restaurant, and waiter Sadek Salam says such celebrities as Andre Agassi, Martina Hingis and Lindsay Davenport are frequent customers during Wimbledon.

With a smile, Salam adds: "I hope Lindsay wins."

Long overlooked on the women's tour, Davenport has finally developed a fan following. All it took was three Grand Slam titles and an Olympic gold medal.

She still can't rival Anna Kournikova or the Williams sisters in publicity or popularity, but Davenport will attract plenty of attention as the defending champion when Wimbledon begins today.

And she knows it.

"There are many different emotions compared to previous years," Davenport said. "Wimbledon holds pretty special memories for me now, but at the same time, there's a lot of added pressure."

Four players have won the women's championship in the past four years. Davenport's foremost threats in her bid for consecutive titles include the top-seeded Hingis, French Open champion Mary Pierce and the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.

Don't discount Kournikova, the favorite with the London tabloids. She's unseeded and has yet to win a tournament, but she reached the semifinals in 1997 at 16, and her game is well suited for grass.

The seeding system used at Wimbledon prompted Spaniards Alex Corretja and Albert Costa to pull out on Sunday. They are angry they weren't among the 16 seeded players, even though both are ranked in the top 16. Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam event that doesn't follow the ATP rankings in determining seedings.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, another Spaniard in the top 16 who didn't get a seed, withdrew earlier with a reported back injury.

All England Club Chairman Tim Phillips, sympathetic with the Spaniards, said the club would waive any fines. "There are no further penalties apart from the fact this is a zero-pointer (tournament) for them," Phillips said.

No one argued that Pete Sampras didn't deserve to be seeded No. 1. He'll bid for his seventh Wimbledon title and a record 13th Grand Slam championship beginning Monday against Jiri Vanek.

Sampras cut short a practice session Friday when he felt a twinge in his troublesome back, raising doubts about whether it can hold up for two weeks in Wimbledon weather.

But he was back on the practice court Sunday, hit for an hour and said his back was ready for the tournament.

"It gets stiff," he said. "We've had a lot of cold, damp weather the past few days. ... It's just a matter of doing my stretching and warming up to be 100 percent."

At 100 percent, Sampras would be tough to beat. He's 46-1 at the All England Club in the past seven years, a record Davenport can appreciate as well as anyone.

"What Pete Sampras has done is incredible," she said. "Successfully defending my title is asking a lot. To even win one was beyond my wildest dreams."

With a big swing and slow footwork, Davenport always struggled on grass until last year. She reached the semifinals for the first time by eliminating defending champion Jana Novotna, then beat seven-time champion Steffi Graf in the final.

"You play matches and you don't think about where you're at," Davenport said, "and all of a sudden I was serving for the whole title against Steffi Graf."

Davenport held serve, then found herself holding the most prestigious trophy in tennis. Her reaction was a mixture of glee and disbelief.

"They sent me the highlight tape about four months ago, and that was the first time I'd seen the final," Davenport said. "I don't really ever watch myself play. It was fun. They showed me winning and my eyes got real big."

At 24, Davenport is a late bloomer by women's tennis standards. The tall Californian with the friendly demeanor and fearsome groundstrokes never reached a Grand Slam final before winning the 1998 U.S. Open. But now she has won three of the past seven majors the most impressive collection of titles by an American-born woman since Chris Evert.

The second-seeded Davenport's biggest concern this week may be rustiness. Because of ankle and back injuries, she has played just four matches since April 1. But she said she's healthy and feeling much more mature and experienced than a year ago.

She's more popular, too. After all, fans love a winner.

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