Only four Americans are still standing at the French Open, but even among this small contingent Lindsay Davenport has generally been overlooked.
Davenport breezed through her third-round match Friday, dismissing Marissa Irvin of Santa Monica, Calif., 6-1, 6-4, in a brisk 63 minutes to advance to the round of 16. Considering how she felt this time a year ago, Davenport is relieved, and somewhat amazed, to be back at all.
She entered the 2003 French Open hobbled by a painful foot injury that ultimately forced her to withdraw from her fourth-round match at Roland Garros. She needed cortisone injections to make it through the U.S. Open and finally underwent surgery to remove a mass that had taken root on the nerve of her left foot. It was the only option, doctors advised, if she wanted to continue her career.
Davenport has achieved far more than most in a 12-year pro career, winning the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games, and the championship at the U.S. Open (1998), Wimbledon (1999) and Australian Open. That leaves the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam. Asked what the achievement would signify, she said: "Disbelief. Amazement. I'd probably have to retire right there on the spot."
She quickly added that the retirement reference was a joke, but there's no denying that Davenport, who will turn 28 next month, is nearing the end of her career. She wed investment banker Jon Leach in April 2003 and has said she wants to start a family at some point. If she's to complete her career Grand Slam, this is a grand opportunity.
She is healthy, for one, after struggling with knee and foot injuries for two years. Injuries and early exits by others have also left the women's draw fairly open. Defending champion and top-seed Justine Henin-Hardenne lost in the second round. Kim Clijsters, the world's No. 2 player, skipped the event because of a wrist injury. Serena Williams looks formidable yet erratic. And Venus Williams is rebounding from a twisted ankle.
While aware of the draw, Davenport insists she's not analyzing how it may work to her advantage. The larger issue is the fact that the two-week tournament is contested on clay, which doesn't play to her strengths.
"I play my best tennis when I'm being aggressive and moving forward and going after my shots," Davenport explained. "I don't think I'm the type of player that's going to sit five feet behind the baseline and try to get balls in and really work the points around."
Her game plan: Play hard-court tennis on the slow, Parisian clay and hope for the best.
Richmond's Shaughnessy Falls
Richmond native Meghann Shaughnessy fell to No. 21 seed Magdalena Maleeva, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3). . . .
No. 4 seed Venus Williams faces a tough test Saturday, when she takes on the tournament's 2000 champion, Mary Pierce, on center court. Pierce, whose mother is French, is a crowd favorite at Roland Garros. . . .
Jennifer Capriati plays Russia's Elena Bovina in the stadium's first match.