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You Call This a Tennis Mom?

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07/09/1999
 
By Rick Reilly
Sports Illustrated

Lindsay Davenport has the most clueless mom in pro tennis. Ann Davenport doesn't coach her daughter, manage her daughter or represent her daughter. She doesn't order her daughter's clothes, lunch or boyfriends. She doesn't write her daughter's letters, speeches or checks. What kind of caring tennis parent doesn't have at least one restraining order against her?

Lindsay may be among the favorites to win the U.S. Open women's singles title, but her mom sure isn't acting like it. Most tennis parents are on their offspring like Dr. Dentons. Where's Ann? Not in the locker room or the press room. She watched Lindsay play a match the other day, didn't scream advice once, clapped happily when Lindsay won and then went back to her hotel. "We might talk tonight," Ann said, "but she's awfully busy."

Uh, hello? Last year Justin Gimelstob's dad almost got in a fistfight with Andre Agassi's coach, Brad Gilbert. Has Ann ever thrown a haymaker at Steffi Graf's coach? Earlier this year Richard Williams announced that he wanted his daughter Venus to retire at 22. When's the last time Ann Davenport made a crucial life decision for Lindsay? No wonder Ann works full time as president of the Southern California Volleyball Association. She doesn't have the sense to live off her daughter!

Longtime tennis writers could no more pick Ann Davenport out of a crowd than J.D. Salinger. She has been to only one Grand Slam venue -- this one. Ever! Lindsay won this year's Wimbledon, but was Ann there? No! She was busy with her own life. The nerve!

Superstar Martina Hingis recently dismissed her coach-racket stringer-agent-mom, Melanie Molitor, then took her back five weeks later, explaining, "We kind of complete each other." What's Ann thinking, bringing up a daughter who's already complete?

Ann's not Lindsay's psychiatrist, masseuse or publicist. She's not her valet, chauffeur or accountant. She's not her crutch, salvation or guru. All she is is her mother. In a way, she's not even that. "I think we're more like sisters," says Lindsay, 23, who lives with Ann, 57, in Newport Beach, Calif. "We have so much fun together."

Fun? Tennis parents do not have fun.

Samantha Stevenson, the freelance sportswriter who delivers the big stories, is the mom of 18-year-old Alexandra Stevenson. Not only is Samantha at Alexandra's interviews, she takes over most of them. She's on the practice court, in the trainer's room and in the hotel suite next door. She says she has to protect Alexandra from the rampant lesbianism in the women's locker room. "I don't want my daughter in there alone," she says. Just to be sure, when Alexandra went on a date in August, Samantha went, too, maybe just to double-check. All right, buster. Cough twice.

Ann, meanwhile, is pathetic. She doesn't use her daughter as an ATM, the way Jennifer Capriati's dad reportedly did. She doesn't use her daughter as a punching bag, the way Mirjana Lucic's dad allegedly did. She doesn't need to be banned from the circuit and court-ordered to stay away from her daughter, the way Mary Pierce's dad was.

"I just always wanted Lindsay to make her own decisions and her own mistakes," says Ann. "It's her life, and it's her career. I just stayed with her until she got up on her own two feet."

Three years ago Lindsay moved back in with her mom, but only because she really needed somebody. Not Lindsay. Ann. She and her husband of 28 years, Wink, were divorcing. Lindsay came back just to get her mom up on her own two feet.

Now they're closer than freckles on a redhead. O.K., sometimes Ann will say, "You really need to wear something a little more form-fitting," and Lindsay will break down and do it. She lost 30 pounds over three years, with her mother's help, and Ann says, "I think she should show it off." Sometimes she'll go off on dates, leaving her housemate alone for the evening, but Lindsay can handle it.

Maybe it's a coincidence, but ever since Lindsay got her terrific new roomie, her tennis has been terrific. Three years ago she was ranked No. 9 in the world. Now she's won two of the last four Grand Slam tournaments and is ranked No 2. Ann, naturally, is here at the U.S. Open to guide her. Not on the court. "Bloomingdale's," Ann says, laughing.

Every now and then a woman -- not a girl -- shows up on top of tennis. When it happens, it's usually because she was given the chance to become one.