Monday, December 24, 2007

Bring Me a Trophy, Santa

I love Christmas. Really, I do. I can't help but love it. The romantic idea that this is the season when families come together and share what is most important in their lives: each other. Though I partly believe that Christmas has become anything but that, the few weeks at the end of the year between "Happy Thanksgiving!" and "Happy New Year!" are some of my favorite.

One tennis player that will be celebrating with a larger family this year is Lindsay Davenport, the WTA's new cover girl in its I-Can-Give-Birth-And-Play-Tennis-Too Campaign.

Though some are critical of Davenport and her recent return, I am rather tickled by her decision to return to the tour. Not only does Davenport demonstrate a passion and elegance of an era gone by, but I think she believes - truly believes - that she has some top quality tennis left in her.

That's one thing many players on the woman's tour struggle with today: belief. It was evident in Kim Clijsters, who knew she was good, knew she was great, but couldn't quite muster up the courage to believe in her ability to be the best. The result? A one slam wonder.

And it's the complete opposite problem for Clijsters' countrywoman Justine Henin, who couldn't believe in herself more. Henin not only believes she can conquer the tennis world, she knows that she can. It's this sort of attitude that has gotten Henin in trouble with the press in the past because such a disposition comes off as arrogant and cocky.

But Davenport is anything but arrogant and cocky. For so long, the Girl Next Door has been American tennis' favorite daughter. Sure, there are the Williams sisters, and Jennifer Capriati and Monica Seles. But none of them possess the charm - the "it" factor - that Davenport does.

So last week, when Davenport announced that she was going full-throttle in 2008 by playing at least three of four grand slams (she'll probably skip the French Open) I couldn't help but be overjoyed. The end of '07 proved that Davenport still has that "it" factor everyone - including her - is inspired by.

There are two images seared in my brain of Davenport: the first is the post-pudgy Lindsay, at the 1998 US Open, lumbering towards the net to run down a Martina Hingis drop shot before plowing the ball past her Swiss opponent for her first grand slam title. She raises her arms mostly in triumph, but more in sheer disbelief.

The second is a somewhat unattached Lindsay, rocking back and forth behind the baseline, waiting to return a Venus Williams serve on championship point at Wimbledon in 2005. It was a moment that I wish Davenport would have seized better, and I would guess she feels the same way.

But I think those are the images that keep Davenport herself out on the court everyday, with husband Rick Leach as a hitting partner and son Jagger as a courtside constant. Lindsay still has something to prove of the champion she was in 1998 and 2005, and, hopefully still is in 2008.

So to a Merry Christmas for Lindsay and company, who are no doubt enjoying themselves in Southern California before boarding a plane for Australia, home of the Easter Bunny. If there's another family Lindsay would like to help grow in the year to come, it'd be her grand slam trophy family. That's one Christmas wish Santa (and Lindsay) may deliver on.

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