Davenport takes one more run at Wimbledon

WIMBLEDON, England -- As she walked off Wimbledon's Centre Court last year after a semifinal loss to Maria Sharapova, Lindsay Davenport took a brief second to look around and soak in the atmosphere.

In her mind, this was probably it. The last time she'd compete in the Championships. The last time she'd stand on this court.

"I remember crying a little bit thinking, 'Oh, I might not be playing here again," Davenport said. "I was just losing that inner fire that you need to always be at the top."

But a funny thing happened when Davenport began playing out the 2004 season: she started winning -- a lot. Davenport won 27 of 28 matches after Wimbledon, including a span of five singles titles. On Oct. 18, she regained the No. 1 ranking in the world 144 weeks after relinquishing it.

Now, a year after she told reporters she planned to retire, a year after she said goodbye to Wimbledon, the woman's top seed has quietly cruised to the Round of 16, where Belgium's Kim Clijsters awaits Monday with a ticket to the quarterfinals on the line.

"I never would have expected how things turned out. Never would have dreamt that," Davenport said. "I feel like I'm kind of on borrowed time. But it's hard to walk away when you feel like you could achieve the ultimate goal in tennis."

To do that, she'll have to get by Clijsters, to whom Davenport had lost in six straight matches before defeating her in the French Open earlier this month. The two have met 16 times in Davenport's career, with Clijsters holding a 9-7 advantage.

"I'm definitely looking forward to it," said Clijsters, the 15th seed on the ladies side of the draw. "After Paris, this is something that definitely motivates me."

The only time they met on grass, here at Wimbledon in 2001, Davenport sailed to a 6-1, 6-2 victory.

"Hopefully the grass gives me an advantage," Davenport said. "But I don't know -- she's a tough player."

It was at this same point last year that Davenport had her personal meltdown. Earlier this spring, Davenport told the Palm Beach Post that the morning of last year's Round of 16 match with Russia's Vera Zvonareva, she called her husband back in California and told him she had enough.

"I woke him up at three or four in the morning," she told the paper. "I just remember crying and saying I'm not enjoying this anymore."

But her husband was able to calm her down and Davenport was able to reach the semifinals before losing to Sharapova. Yet afterwards, she told reporters she thought this was it.

"I'd be surprised if I was back," she said at the time.

Now she's one of the favorites. Yet despite being the No. 1 ranked woman in the world, as well as the top seed in this tournament, Davenport has played Wimbledon's this first week in relative obscurity. The rest of the tennis world has its eyes set on the glamorous Sharapova or the always-entertaining Williams sisters, while the unassuming Davenport has dominated, winning 36 of the 44 games she's played.

The lack of attention suits the California native just fine. When asked this week if she felt she receives enough respect from the American press, considering her 47 career singles titles, her 667-175 record and her over $19 million in prize money, Davenport's response was as simple as her plain gray tennis outfit: "Yes."

Although nobody likes to look too far down the draw, should Davenport get by Clijsters and then likely defeat Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarters and Amelie Mauresmo in the semifinals, a potential rematch with Sharapova -- in the Wimbledon finals -- awaits.

It would be an incredible contrast of styles: Sharapova, the teenage blonde diva, with gold earrings, gold shoes and a gold barrette on one side of the net, Davenport, the confident, hate-the-spotlight veteran with deep brown hair and dark brown eyes on the other.

Just getting to the finals would be an accomplishment, not only because Davenport nearly retired a year ago, but because, for the first time in two years, a Grand Slam includes all five of the world's top-ranked women. That doesn't include Clijsters, ranked 13th, or Venus Williams, 16th. Both are capable of beating any one on any day.

"Everybody is here. Everybody is hungry again," Clijsters said. "That just makes it more interesting."

Davenport hasn't won a Grand Slam title since the 2000 Australian Open, but this year made it to the finals at Melbourne, where she lost to Serena Williams. No matter what happens this week, her confidence has ultimately been restored. And should Davenport stay healthy, there is already talk about her returning to SW19 next year.

"If I'm playing well and healthy, I really think I'll be back," Davenport said. "There's no reason why I won't."

Wayne Drehs is a staff writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Wayne.Drehs@espn3.com.