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FRIDAY JUNE 29 2001

Davenport exposes creases in game of Australian hopeful

BY ALYSON RUDD

A WOMAN wandered around Wimbledon yesterday in a long, prim white dress, the compulsory tennis attire a century ago. On Centre Court yesterday, Lindsay Davenport and Alicia Molik wore the skimpiest, figure-hugging and comfortable clothes, yet managed to look as restricted as if wearing corsets.

Women’s tennis is often patronised or even ignored and often unfairly so but this second-round match fulfilled the fears of those who expected something lacking verve. There were the odd flashes of sheer brilliance but they were specks of light on a dark and brooding canvas. You looked around the court and wondered why all these people were wearing such bright colours to such a serious event. In the sixth game of the second set, both women flew into the net and a delicious exchange ensued with Molik emerging as the craftiest. The starved crowd gushed in appreciation of the point’s beauty. This was not a match in which you could spot much in the way of scampering. The preceding encounter on Centre Court had witnessed Jamie Delgado career after every lost cause, nearly flattening a ball boy here or a chair there. But Davenport and Molik seemed to be of the opinion that if a shot is well placed then so be it. Let it be. Why interfere? Grass lacks rhythm, according to Davenport, but it seems a poor excuse.

 

Australians had high hopes of Molik, ranked No 70 in the world, and it was clear why. She has a powerful serve and can produce telling shots from the baseline but not once did she appear capable, mentally, of creating an upset. Her fans began vociferously but the support tailed off in a whimper of inevitability. Davenport began unconvincingly, but ended in the style of a previous Wimbledon champion with a crushing cushioned shot at the net. It is difficult to tell with Davenport whether she is playing in pain or simply cruising in second gear. Her right knee remains taped, but as a preventative measure, and she says that she feels fine. In a game brimming with teenage hopefuls — at 20 there are fears that Molik is past the point of no return — Davenport is a level-headed 25-year-old who talks as you or I might about wanting to have children sooner rather than later and who can laugh about the fish-tank world of the tennis circuit. She expects to retire at 28 — “I would be surprised if I was playing at 30” — and after her recent injuries, who could blame her? Perhaps what will decide how far she progresses at Wimbledon will be how she balances the excitement that she says she feels about being here against her realism. As she has no intention of playing on when no longer consistent, she has all the incentive that she needs to keep winning until it suits her to pack it all in. If her game follows the same pattern as it did in the Britannic Asset Management Championships in Eastbourne, where it grew in stature to enable her to win the tournament, then it would be unwise to write her off. “I think I’m getting back in the flow,” she said.

Davenport, despite her pleasant demeanour and honest appraisal of her world, is not considered to be one of the game’s pin-ups, but she oozed class. Maybe seeded players have access to a better calibre of Lycra, for Molik’s looked creased, as if she had squeezed into a size too small, whereas the American was sheer and smooth. Someone had better invent a way, however, for the second serve ball not to look like a giant wart just below the hip, if this micro-mini trend is to progress. And the women’s game had better liven up if it wants to avoid anyone noticing such things.