We caught up with the newest member of our Oracle Tennis US Awards committee, Lindsay Davenport. While titles, accolades and honors from her professional tennis career would fill pages, Davenport has been ranked World No. 1 on eight different occasions and winner of 55 WTA Tour singles titles including six Grand Slams. Hear from the tennis legend in her own words on her passion for tennis, turning pro and life lessons.
Question: How did you discover your passion for tennis?
Answer: It definitely struck me at an early age – I was in kindergarten! My mom put me in an after-school tennis program and I immediately loved it. I kept asking to play more and more. I would come home and start hitting a tennis ball against my garage door. Everyone in my family played volleyball, so it was assumed I would as well as soon as I was old enough. But I never wanted to put my racket down.
Q: What kind of support do you think aspiring professional players need?
A: Players need all sorts of support; financial, coaching and emotional! It’s so expensive that players struggle to make enough in the beginning of their careers to travel or pay for a coach. I also think tennis needs more team engagement such as team events, team support. It also needs infrastructure to help all players and not just the lucky few who might get some endorsement money.
Q: What do you see as the impact of the new Oracle Challenger Series on American tennis?
A: First it’s been AMAZING to see pro tennis opportunities back in the USA! So many tournaments have left the United States the last 15-20 years, and it’s imperative to the future success of American tennis to have opportunities to compete for meaningful ranking points and prize money here in the U.S.
There is a huge gap between the world tour level tournaments and the challengers/ITF tournaments (prize money $15k to $25k). The Oracle Challenger Series is the perfect tournament series that will prepare players to succeed at the next level and break through to the main tour.
Q: What are the common characteristics that you see between successful professional players?
A: Almost all successful tennis players are independent, dedicated to their game, have a strong work ethic and are resilient. You HAVE to be able to think for yourself – both on the court and off – figure out mid-match strategy, problem solve in your own game, decide which tournaments to play and come up with a training schedule that will enable you to succeed
Tennis is a sport that requires hours after hours of hitting ball after ball after ball. You have got to be self-motivated and committed to put in those kinds of hours. Also in tennis you are pretty much guaranteed to lose every single week. You have to be able to take a punch and bounce right back.
Q: What advice would you give to a college player aspiring to go pro?
A: Be patient, work hard and take advantage of everything your college or university has to offer. With players now playing into their mid- to late-30’s, there isn’t as big of a rush to get out there. Use the time wisely in college to develop your game and mature physically and emotionally.
Q: What skills did you hone on the tennis court that help you most in your professional career?
A: Quiet, self-belief and strong work ethic. While hitting a tennis ball came easily to me, I had to work very hard on the physical part of the game and also be honest and realistic about my weaknesses. It’s not always easy to speak about your deficiencies, but it’s imperative in tennis. I would think to myself: “Since I don’t do ‘A’ well, I better hide that by doing something else.” Today, I try and use those lessons in my post tennis career and even my parenting.