When Lindsay Davenport is playing like Lindsay Davenport, the first serves boom and the ground strokes land deep near her opponent's baseline.
Saturday, in the third round of the women's portion of the Pacific Life Tennis Open at Indian Wells, Davenport played enough like Davenport to pin a 6-3, 6-0 defeat on Elena Likhovtseva of Russia. But she also played at times like the Davenport who has slipped from a solid No. 1 in the world a few years ago to her current No. 7, and she sounded afterward like a player who knows she is a work in progress.
Asked what it would take for her to win another Grand Slam event, she said, "I don't know. I feel like I have to get a bit more confidence.... I feel like, you know, I'm making strides."
It is a subject tiptoed around by all women on the tour not named Williams.
Jennifer Capriati, who was No. 1 as recently as last June before starting a mini-slide that has taken her to No. 5, won her third-round match, 6-2, 6-2, over Denise Chladkova of the Czech Republic and said she can do well in the upcoming Grand Slam tournaments "if I am playing my best tennis."
There is a feeling with the public, and a fear among the other players on the Women's Tennis Assn. tour, that their livelihood has turned into the TVS, the Tour of Venus and Serena. Since Capriati won the Australian Open in 2002, the Grand Slam tournaments have been the domain of one household. Serena Williams won the next four -- the French, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and this year's Australian -- defeating her sister Venus in each final.
Such results do not engender bold statements of hope by others. In many ways, the WTA Tour has become a parade from city to city of two superstars and a bunch of players with a deer-in-the-headlights look.
And sadly for the promoters of this event in the desert, Venus and Serena are not on this parade stop, presumably still sulking over the events of two years ago. Minutes before her scheduled semifinal against Serena in 2001, Venus defaulted with tendinitis in her knee, stiffing a packed stadium and an ESPN telecast for which great ratings were expected. The next day, when Serena walked out to play Belgium's Kim Clijsters in the final, the crowd booed. Serena lost the first set, then rallied to win, and the Williams sisters have not been seen in these parts since.
Even when the subject of marketing the WTA Tour came up, Davenport spoke in almost reverent terms about the Williams sisters, both of whom she used to bat around with some ease when they first joined the tour in the late '90s.
"We have both the Williamses who, you know, have kind of gone from just being an athlete to kind of being everywhere," she said. "Everybody knows who they are. It is not just a tennis thing."
Amelie Mauresmo of France, seeded fifth, joined Davenport and Capriati in the quarterfinals but needed 2 hours 11 minutes to subdue Tamarine Tanasugarn of Thailand, 6-3, 5-7, 6-2.