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Davenport finds pain, then joy

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By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 6, 2001


WIMBLEDON, England -- Lindsay Davenport wears a bandage on her right knee, but that's not where it really hurts.

Oh, if only that's all there was to it. If only that's all Davenport had to worry about instead of things like hospitals, chemotherapy and experimental drug treatments.

Oh, and death.

"It's been tough," she said.

Davenport was hastily ushered out of Wimbledon on Thursday, losing to Venus Williams 6-2, 6-7 (1-7), 6-1 in the semifinals. But with each match, Davenport put a different twist on what it means to play hurt.

Forget about the knee. It feels just fine. It's her heart that's not quite right, heavy with worries about her dear friend and doubles partner who is thousands of miles away in Boca Raton.

The day before the French Open began in late May, Corina Morariu was rushed to a hospital, where doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with the seemingly healthy 23-year-old. Their findings weren't good.

Acute leukemia.

Morariu (mor-AR-yoo), an American with Romanian parents, spent several days in the hospital and has had chemotherapy treatments. Davenport, unable to play the French Open because of her knee, rushed to her bedside.

"She has something very tough going on right now," Davenport said. "It's very hard to see somebody like that go through something like that. When it first happened, I was really pretty scared."

It's still a bit hairy for Davenport. The two e-mail each other every day and talk on the phone almost every other day.

Davenport continues to play, and play well since returning from a three-month layoff because of the knee injury. She won a grass-court tuneup the week before Wimbledon and breezed through to the semifinals here.

But each triumph is lessened in a way by her concern for Morariu. In its place is a renewed perspective on life. On what's really important and what's not.

Davenport, 25, will tell you that the ordeal has changed her. It has made one of the most well-adjusted and grounded players on tour more so.

How can she get upset now over having her nine-match winning steak snapped when Morariu would probably give her left arm to play one match again? How can she get depressed about losing out on a shot at the Wimbledon title when Morariu is in danger of losing so much more? How can she worry about how this loss will affect her future when Morariu's is so cloaked in doubt?

"It's something that changes everybody's life around her," Davenport said. "It's one of those things where I was actually a little mad at myself for being so down about a knee injury. I was really disappointed when I had to pull out of the French and fly home.

"I got home. First thing, I called Corina. "How are you feeling?' I was thinking, this is so dumb (to be disappointed about missing the French Open). It's amazing how it puts things in perspective."

That's how it was Thursday. Davenport was composed and somewhat upbeat after the loss, giving all the credit to her opponent.

"I'm pretty realistic when I look at things. It's a tennis match. I've learned that," Davenport said. "I'm definitely not happy, but obviously I'm not going to go lock myself in a room for days."

There is no time for that anyway. There are more tournaments to play, more major titles to chase.

And there is Morariu. She is facing this crisis with the optimism of someone fighting a cold. Sure, it was scary in the beginning. But her indomitable spirit and resilience have kicked in, much the way they did as she scratched and clawed her way around the tour to become an accomplished doubles player, once No. 1 in the world.

"It's a very difficult situation," Davenport said. "You've just got to hope for the best. It's made me remember that it's just a pleasure and a privilege to be out here playing, to try to just enjoy everything more and more."

That means enjoying the wins as much as the losses. Enjoying the journey as much as the destination. Enjoying it for herself and, for the time being at least, for Morariu, too.

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