Davenport's career takes turn for best

LOS ANGELES -- Going into Wimbledon, Lindsay Davenport was talking about calling it a career. The losses no longer hurt as much and the victories weren't as sweet. At 28, she'd pretty much done all that she set out to accomplish, winning three Grand Slams, an Olympic gold and a slew of other tournaments.

She had nothing more to prove, nothing to lose.

At the time it seemed as though she'd made the right call. She ended up losing her semifinal Wimbledon matchup to one of those pesky, young Russians, Maria Sharapova. And before that she had been bounced in the quarters of the Australian, the finals at Indian Wells and the Round of 16 at the French.

But then, it was as if a fairy godmother had rejuvenated the Palos Verdes, Calif., native with a magic wand. Davenport embarked on a magical journey, beating Venus Williams in the finals at Stanford, whipping Serena Williams in the finals at L.A. and making a clean sweep of the two other tournaments leading up to the U.S. Open, topping two more pesky, young Russians -- Anastasia Myskina and Vera Zvonareva.

And Wednesday night in the opening round of the eight-player WTA Championships, Davenport took the first set easily against No. 5 Elena Dementieva, but at 4-1 struggled through a game that lasted nearly as long as the first set before closing the match out at 6-0, 6-1 in front of a crowd of 8,127 at the Staples Center.

In other matches, fourth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated No. 11 Zvonareva, 6-2, 6-4. Like Davenport, Serena Williams, ranked eighth, also had a tough time putting Myskina away, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. No. 2 Amelie Mauresmo and No. 6 Sharapova had the night off.

There's nothing like a nice, year-end winning steak to squash those visions of enjoying lazy, hazy afternoons in Laguna Beach with a latte in one hand, a steamy novel in the other and your rackets nowhere in sight. It also helps when you're once again the world's top-ranked player.

"It was just one of those games that just got more dramatic as it went on," Davenport said after the match. "It was a crazy game -- a lot of deuces. I thought I played well in the first set. It was a difficult, yet a good match for me to start out with. I'm happy to be up 1-0 in a round-robin tournament."

Mauresmo, who makes her debut Thursday, could possibly meet Davenport in the semifinals or finals. She said she felt Davenport's retirement talk inspired her summer surge.

"I think actually what she said at Wimbledon was a relief to her," said Mauresmo, who has lost to Davenport twice this year, most recently when she had to retire at Filderstadt. "When you look at the rest of her season, she won all the pre-U.S. Open tournaments that she played and then Filderstadt. Maybe she made the decision in her head, thinking that she had nothing to lose and she'd just get out there and do whatever.

"It's very funny, but I'm not surprised by that because she's still playing some great tennis."

Davenport concurs.

"Tennis is certainly more enjoyable when you're able to play a whole season with no major injuries," she said. "I felt like I've been able to put the time in off court as needed whereas the last 2½ years I really felt like I was hindered by certain injuries.

"And it's been fun. There's no question that tennis is a lot more exciting when you have a lot more chances to win and you believe you can and you're playing well. So, it's just been a lot different than what I've been used to the last few years. There was some concern that I would end my career not enjoying tennis and I'm glad that 2004, and especially the second part of it, was successful and exciting."

So, is she still contemplating retirement?

"Well, (those thoughts) are never gone," Davenport said. "I'm putting a lot of emphasis on next year, getting ready to go to Australia and playing. And again, if everything goes well and I feel like I'm staying healthy and stuff, I'd love to play a full year. I'd love nothing more than give myself chances to win the Slams that I was unable to accomplish this year."

As for the present, Davenport would love to do well here against a tough field that includes six top 10 players. If she makes it to the championship round of the $3 million event on Monday night, she could win her first WTA title since 1999.

And it might just come against Mauresmo.

"I've always enjoyed playing her," Davenport said. "We've had very competitive matches and obviously I've had some losses against her. But for the most part, I've played well against her and have enjoyed the challenge of someone who has more variety in her game than just bang, bang. She can come in and she's got a lot of spin. We've played a lot of times (Davenport leads the series 10-3), and obviously if I played her here, it would be great. It would either be in the semis or finals, so it's a long way to possibly playing her."

Although Davenport has Thursday off, the Russians don't. Four of the five are scheduled to play. Sharapova, making her first appearance of the week, will face Zvonareva, Kuznetsova meets Mauresmo, and Dementieva takes on Serena Williams.

Davenport admitted that she did have some "nerves and trepidation" coming into this type of format.

"It's going to be different," she said before her victory over Dementieva. "I've not played it since last year, so being in a round-robin event it seems kind of new. It seems like it will be an interesting experience if you do happen to lose and have to come back the next day and still know you have a chance. It's crazy that way, but I think (a round-robin) was the right move to make, and I think there's great opportunity and the money is well deserved if you're winning and get through the tournament.

"It should make for a great end of the season."

And a nice start for the new year.

Miki Turner, a regular contributor to Page 3, is covering the WTA Tour Championships for ESPN.com. She can be reached at dmiki@aol.com.