Just because Lauren Davis lost doesn't mean she failed

MELBOURNE, Australia -- It was the 22nd game of a classic third set when Lauren Davis faced a potentially career-altering moment. Up three match points on the No. 1 player in the world, Simona Halep, Davis was on the verge of the signature win of her career in the third round of the Australian Open.

Davis tried to seal the deal dramatically, with guns blazing. She overpowered a Halep serve, hitting it long.

Next Halep serve, another misfire.

And just like that, the moment was gone.

Davis and Halep would play six more games in a match that played like a highly anticipated boxing match that rarely lives up to the hype.

We know where Halep goes from here. She advances to the fourth round with her sights set on her first Grand Slam title. And her odds are as good as anyone in a tournament without Serena Williams and Venus Williams (the finalists in last year's Australian Open) and without Sloane Stephens (last year's US Open champion).

But who knows where this experience takes Davis.

Does the match catapult her career to the next level?

Or does she become another player like Alexandra Stevenson, a player who took the tennis world by storm in reaching the 1999 Wimbledon semifinals before her career plummeted.

Davis believes she's on the verge of turning the corner, and she thinks the mental transformation had taken place before Saturday's match that left Halep admitting she felt "almost dead."

Despite coming off a year in which Davis won her first WTA tournament (the ASB Classic in Auckland last January) and achieved her best ranking (she reached No. 26 in May), her play over the second half of 2017 (six wins in 19 matches) left her carrying doubts into the new year.

"I have always struggled with being so critical and being hard on myself," Davis said. "We [athletes] look at failure as a negative, and, like, say you miss a shot by an inch and you do everything right, a lot of people consider that as a failure. But looking at it, you did everything right for the most part. It's all about changing the way you see things and changing your perspective."

When did that switch flip for Davis?

"Really, before this tournament," she said. "So, I made a commitment to myself before this tournament that I'm going to be my own best friend and just my greatest supporter and accept all that God has to give me."

Time will tell whether that new attitude will yield consistent results. A win over Halep would have not only given Davis a win over a top-ranked player, but it would have lifted her into the fourth round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in her career.

The fans who entered Rod Laver Arena knowing little about the American, walked away in full appreciation of her potential. They watched a player perform with power, poise and confidence despite nearly losing two toenails (one on each foot) during the marathon final set that lasted 2 hours, 22 minutes.

"I had never had that happen before," she said. "I think my second toes are just a bit infected. I felt something and I couldn't really put any pressure [on them]."

As Halep collapsed in her chair following the match, looking completely exhausted, Davis gathered her things and quickly left the court. The crowd applauded loudly for her efforts, and that wasn't lost on her.

"Such an amazing atmosphere," Davis said.

For Davis, the question now is whether that atmosphere is addictive. In the year ahead, we get to hear whether taking the top seed to the brink can catapult her career.

Losing a tight match against a top seed is memorable.

For just a few moments.

And if you win those matches and make consistently deep runs in major tournaments?

You acquire perks that, for Davis, might include complimentary seats for the Northern Ohio native to see her favorite NBA team and player, the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

Winning elevates careers to the next level. Davis feels the close loss to Halep puts her on that path.

"It's definitely something to build on," Davis said. "There is more to come."