- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

WIMBLEDON, England — She was once the young upstart, all groundstrokes and potential, a newcomer looking to bag some scalps.

Ten years ago, Lindsay Davenport squared off against Steffi Graf at the Australian Open in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Just 18 years old, she had her whole career in front of her, limitless as the ocean that lies outside her Laguna Beach, Calif., home.

But that didn’t make Davenport any less nervous.

“I was excited to go out there,” she recalled. “But at the same time I thought, ‘Oh, I don’t want to get embarrassed and get killed.’”

Time passes. Things change. Now 28, Davenport has become the prize catch, the trophy on someone else’s mantle. Yesterday at Wimbledon, she beat back Russian neophyte Vera Zvonareva, 6-4, 6-4, setting up a meeting with Croatian up-and-comer Karolina Sprem in today’s quarterfinals.

The challengers keep getting younger. Davenport keeps getting older. She last won Wimbledon in 1999, a tennis lifetime ago.

“I kind of refrain from giving my [title] chances now,” Davenport said. “Kind of learned. Some tournaments I thought for sure I’m going to win, and I haven’t. Others I thought there’s no way, and I’ve come through to win. So I just worry about playing well. So far, I’ve played very well here.”

On the men’s side of the draw, Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and defending champion Roger Federer all advanced to Thursday’s quarters, while Tim Henman kept English hopes alive with a four-set victory over Australia’s Mark Philippoussis.

Joining Davenport in the women’s quarters are Japan’s Ai Sugiyama and Russia’s Maria Sharapova, who defeated Amy Frazier 6-4, 7-5.

At 17, Sharapova gave up 14 years of experience to the 31-year-old Frazier. Yet it was the WTA Tour vet who folded in a tight second set, firing ill-timed double faults and failing to put away an open court backhand that would have led to a set point.

“Definitely age is a big difference,” Sharapova said. “But when you’re on the court, you don’t think about the age or anything else.”

Don’t tell that to Davenport. Facing a younger opponent with similar weapons — heavy serve, heavier groundstrokes — she leaned on her superior composure.

Down 0-3 in the second set, Davenport kept calm, surviving a deuce point and a pair of blistering returns to hold serve. When Davenport broke back on a Zvonareva forehand error in the next game, the 20-year-old Russian broke down.

Letting out an anguished yelp, Zvonareva sulked to her changeover chair. She promptly burst into tears.

“Probably the only thing that is holding her back maybe is mentally,” Davenport said. “She does have a temper. I didn’t know she was so emotional. You can’t be crying. Who knows what’s going on with her, but it seems like a bizarre time to be that upset.”

Considering her fearless play in a second-round upset of Venus Williams, Sprem figures to be slightly more stable. Still, Davenport likes her chances, if only because she’s seen this script before.

In the 1999 Wimbledon semis, Davenport blasted then-unknown Alexandra Stevenson, who entered the match as a white-hot qualifier.

“Hopefully it goes that way tomorrow,” Davenport said. “Sprem’s a lot more consistent from the baseline. She hits some big shots. Probably moves a little bit better. So it’s going to be a little bit tougher.”

The years have been tough on Davenport’s body, dealing her a painful series of back spasms, wrist tendinitis and right knee cartilage damage. Last season, she struggled with left foot neuroma, an excruciating nerve condition that hurt her mobility and required season-ending surgery.

Davenport, who was married last March, limped through a dispiriting loss to Williams in last year’s quarterfinals. Afterward, Davenport said she wasn’t sure whether she would return to Wimbledon, hinting at impending retirement.

This time around, she isn’t making any promises — not when the tournament features only two other former Slam winners, Serena Williams and Jennifer Capriati, both of whom are on the other side of the draw.

“I waver quite a bit [about retirement],” Davenport said. “But I think that this is a really good shot for me this year at this tournament. And that’s all I’m pretty much worried about right now.”

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