Sleeper Choice Rising As Tennis's New No. 2

Californian shines in singles and doubles play

The identity of the world's best woman tennis player is easy - Martina Hingis, the winner of eight 1997 tournaments, including the Australian Open and Wimbledon. But who follows her now that Steffi Graf is on the mend and out of action? Lindsay Davenport.

That's a surprising conclusion, considering that she's not even the highest ranked American, seventh to Monica Seles's third in the current world order. But add up the points awarded for both singles and doubles on the women's pro tour and Davenport, who lost a three-set semifinal match to Hingis a week ago in Palo Alto, Calif., comes out ahead.

Davenport, a resident of Newport Beach, Calif., when she isn't traveling the globe, has never made it to the final of a Grand Slam event, but she does own a doubles victory in the 1996 French Open with fellow American Mary Joe Fernandez, and she continues to leave her calling card playing with and without a partner.

Such versatility makes her an invaluable member of the United States Federation Cup team, which recently defeated Japan in Boston to remain in Group I, or the inner circle, of this team competition.

During a five-match sweep, the 6 ft., 2 in. Davenport won twice in singles and once in doubles with Lisa Raymond.

After a Fed Cup press conference, Davenport addressed a variety of topics, including her strong team orientation. "In my case, team play definitely raises my game," she says of a sparkling four-year Fed Cup record (14-2 in singles, 5-0 in doubles).

"I've been playing tennis since I was six, and it's been pretty individualistic," she adds. "Maybe that's why I like Fed Cup so much. You're working with other people toward a common goal in a sport where much of your time is spent practicing for yourself. During Fed Cup, you're thinking, 'I'm practicing for Mary Joe and I've got to win for her,' and she's thinking the same about me."

Most of the Davenport family members have experienced this kind of esprit de corps in volleyball. Her father, Wink, played volleyball on the men's 1968 US Olympic team and her mother, Ann, is president of the Southern California Volleyball Association. Two sisters played collegiately.

Lindsay, however, gravitated toward tennis and her parents did nothing to dissuade her.

"Everyone in my family is very independent, with their own careers," Davenport says. "They support me 100 percent and I talk to them a lot. They watch me when I play locally, but that's it. They don't go out of their way really. They're very busy doing lots of stuff."

Davenport turned pro in 1993, the year before she graduated from high school, and finished the season ranked 20th on the Women's Tennis Association tour.

Since then she has moved up, becoming, in 1994, the first US-born woman to enter the world top 10 since Jennifer Capriati in 1990. She slid to 12th in 1995, then rebounded to ninth in 1996, winning an Olympic gold medal by upsetting four higher-seeded players, including Fernandez and, in the final, Spain's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

This year, the hard-hitting Californian has won three tour stops to rank seventh in singles. She is taking this week off before returning to action for the leadup to the US Open, which begins Aug. 25 in New York.

Improving upon her best previous finish (fourth round, twice), would alert casual fans to what serious followers of the sport already know: Davenport is a major talent still edging toward greater public recognition.

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