Sportstar Archives: Lindsay Davenport's Wimbledon triumph

Lindsay Davenport defeated Steffi Graf in the final to claim her first Wimbledon title in 1999. It would also be Steffi Graf’s last appearance at the hallowed grass courts...

Lindsay Davenport won her maiden Wimbledon title in 1999. She was simply irresistible against Steffi Graf in the final.   -  The Hindu Archives

IN a way, Lindsay Davenport was not ready for the biggest day of her career. She did not have a proper dress to wear and she had to go to the Wimbledon champions' ball in a borrowed dress."I woke up in the morning and said. God, I don't have a dress now," Davenport said.

No matter. That - borrowing a dress - was easy enough. But, before she got around to finding a dress, Davenport had a tougher task on hand, trying to deny the greatest player of all time the chance to say goodbye to Wimbledon in style.

As it appeared in the print edition

Then again, to accomplish that mission — the task of beating Steffi Graf in the final — Davenport had all that was necessary. On the centre court, when you are found short, there is no one to borrow from. But, on that Sunday, the friendly American was wonderfully well equipped to deal with the seven-time champion.

Beating the defending champion Jana Novotna handily in the quarterfinals, Davenport went on to surprise everyone on July 4 playing with a rare combination of confidence and skills on a surface where her past results were rather unimpressive.

In the end, when the last ball was struck, the big lady was in tears. Excerpts from an interview with the champion after the final.

Tears of joy in the end, Lindsay?

I couldn't believe it. I was in a state of shock. I sat down in the chair and started wondering how I would climb up to the box. It's amazing to win here not dropping a set and to beat Graf and Novotna, the best grass court players we have. It is a different feeling to be the Wimbledon champion, to come back here next year and play on Tuesday at 2 p.m., no matter what happens. I can't wait.

Coming into this tournament, did you really believe you could win here?

I always believed that my best chances were on hard court and after struggling here for a couple of years, and not playing well on grass, to win here is amazing.

It didn't look like you were nervous at all out there, playing in your first Wimbledon final.

It was the most unbelievable thing that I was not nervous. I was so calm about it. To serve an ace at 30-15(serving for the match) was really big. Obviously the first matchpoint I hit it in the net, but came back no problem, hit a great first serve and it was over. I just kept my cool, and to do that and not to lose serve the whole match was amazing.

“Mentally, more than anything, I believe I deserve to be out there. I believe that I can win these big tournaments. I don't have any doubts. Those who are strong mentally break through and win.”

Lindsay, can we say that you had a strategy before the match and that you followed it almost perfectly?

The strategy obviously is not to lose serve on grass which I guess I followed, but not really. I knew I had to serve well to win the match, hit it hard and deep and come into the backhand. I just stuck with everything and I think my serve pulled me out of a lot of tough games. That really was the key.

READ | A letter to lefties

Do you think your calmness came from the fact that you didn't expect to be in this situation?

I hope I can keep it when it gets into a big match again. But for some reason, the rain delay helped me a little bit to calm down, just relax about the whole thing and look at the situation.

Over the last 12 months, a lot has happened in your career. Has it changed the way you think of yourself as a tennis player?

I think when Rafter won the U.S. Open someone said he was a one-slam wonder. And now to win two for myself, and on two different surfaces, means I am a pretty good all-round player. A couple of days ago, the odds were 15 to 1, and to defy the experts on that and play well, it just feels incredible. It is a tough tournament to win, with the rain delays, the surface and everything. To pull through and be such a fighter, it is something I will never forget.

1999 Wimbledon women's champion Lindsay Davenport and men's champion Pete Sampras display their trophies while holding the American flag high.   -  Reuters


Your belief that you can win on grass... how did it start?

It is tough when you lose badly in the second round a couple of years. But the last two years I have come in here feeling good. Before coming to Wimbledon, I have been able to practice on the grass court by myself, spend a lot of time on it, get my footing a little bit better. If you feel like you are hitting the ball well and early, then anything can happen.

Over the last two or three years, how much have you improved physically and mentally?

I am in a lot better shape physically and I am a little bit more flexible on grass, a little bit quicker and that's what helps. Mentally, more than anything, I believe I deserve to be out there. I believe that I can win these big tournaments. I don't have any doubts. Those who are strong mentally break through and win.

How does this compare with the U.S. Open victory of last year?

The U.S. Open was an incredible one because it was my first one. And here it was one more. I can't believe I overcame myself to win on grass and to win two is incredible. I mean I have won the two biggest tournaments there are in the world. Not many players can say that.

Steffi has said she's not going to come back to Wimbledon. What are your thoughts on that?

I didn't think it was probably the end, but it's looking pretty obvious that she's retiring some time this year, and it's sad. I mean, she came through so much, she is probably the greatest player ever. But at the same time, I think it is probably cool that she is going out on her own terms. I think that's how we'd all like to end our career, still playing well.

Sportstar archives: Steffi Graf, the enigmatic champion

Lindsay, so many times in this sport you get attention only by being outrageous. Have you ever felt cursed by being normal, ever feel you should make something up?

No. I think it's the greatest thing to get attention for winning tournaments, and for being a good person, and for being normal. You want to open the papers and see so-and-so wins the title, and I'd much rather have that than so-and-so was here.....

(The interview first appeared in Sportstar issue dated 24 July, 1999)

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