Davenport a winner ... if you care

STEVE SIMMONS, AT WIMBLEDON

, Last Updated: 1:21 PM ET

WIMBLEDON -- Life as the other guy -- or in this case, the other girl -- always has been just fine with Lindsay Davenport.

She isn't, to use her own words, "one of the most famous celebrities in the world," the way Maria Sharapova is.

She isn't followed around by the crazy photographers here, having her life, her hair, and her wardrobe, critiqued at every turn. And frankly, she wouldn't have it any other way.

She never has been the next best thing or the great one or any other kind of fancy catch phrase. Her career, in a public sort of way, always has been about somebody else and somebody else's time.

What she happens to do is play tennis for a living and what she happens to do is endure. Right now, nearing the ancient age of 30, she's playing better than just about everybody in the world.

The thing is, nobody seems to know or worse, care. And that by itself is a problem with sport, and in this more particular case, women's sport.

Being great doesn't necessarily intrigue people. You need something more. You need a story, a soap opera, an image, a look. Something.

Being a constant, like afternoon rain at Wimbledon, doesn't find you in the headlines. Being able to serve and volley isn't enough.

Hitting your ground strokes harder than anyone else on tour gets your opponent to notice but not the general public.

And being the No. 1 seed is nice but try convincing anyone around the world that this is your tournament. Especially when even your quarter-final match isn't on centre court.

Being the other guy may get you a laugh on Seinfeld if you happen to be a tenor but on the tennis tour all it gets you is left alone.

Sharapova, the No. 2 seed and defending champion, wears little gold tennis shoes and sparkles on her red Nike top in her post-match media conferences and she devours being the poster girl for the sport.

Davenport, the No. 1 seed on paper and nowhere else, shows up in her warmup suit with her hair still wet.

But here she is, having won Wimbledon, having won the U.S. Open, having won the Australian Open, playing Amelie Mauresmo, who can claim none of those victories, in the semi-finals tomorrow.

On the other side of the draw -- the sexier side for all kinds of reasons -- Sharapova will play the surprisingly erratic but recovering Venus Williams.

Davenport, for the record, had won her three Grand Slam tournaments before Sharapova was even a snapshot. She won her three Slams before either Venus or Serena began to dominate and then decline.

Davenport actually planned to retire a year ago, having been deemed obsolete by the sheer dominance of the Williams sisters, wondering if she could compete at this level anymore. Only she isn't going anywhere. Except possibly to the Wimbledon final.

"I feel like I'm playing better than ever," Davenport said. "The game is so much better now than it was in the mid- to late-'90s that I think I've done a good job to improve my game."

FITNESS

The older she gets, the less she practises, the more she concentrates on fitness.

Had Williams or Sharapova made a similar proclamation, an entire generation of young tennis players would stop working on their backhands and immediately start working out with personal trainers.

But it was Davenport, so for now no one will notice. That is her career calling card. The best great player nobody cares about.

Just maybe the champion on Saturday.

"I wouldn't be here if I didn't think that was possible."


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