Davenport finding perfect balance between motherhood and competition

Since returning from temporary retirement in late 2007, Lindsay Davenport has won four titles. AP Photo/Mark Avery

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- It's 80 degrees and the relentless midday sun is wreaking havoc with Lindsay Davenport's big, looping serve and just killing her overheads. The wind swirls little twisters of white sand into her eyes and Argentina's Gisela Dulko, routinely running games into four-deuce territory, isn't cooperating, either.

Well, honestly, these all fall into the category of minor irritations, compared to the real challenge in Davenport's life. His name is Jagger Jonathan Leach and, at 9 months old, he is a wriggling, curious handful.

"It's getting a little tougher," Davenport admitted earlier this month. "I flew with him home from Melbourne. It was just him and me for 14 hours. I was fine. And then flying a three-hour flight with my nanny and Jagger in his own seat and it was way more difficult. He just wants to move and see what's going on and kicking the chair in front of him.

"Certainly, tennis takes such a huge backseat now to overall daily life. I used to take really good care of my body, have free time, stretch, try and relax. Now it's like come home, I've got him full-time, worried about him, trying to get errands done."

She left the game at the end of the 2006 season, at age of 30, with her legacy quite secure. Davenport had won 51 WTA singles titles, three Grand Slam championships and a ton of money, which might explain her choice of husband -- Jon Leach, a private banker and a four-time All-American tennis player at Southern California.

Davenport, who had been talking about having babies for several years, announced she was pregnant in December 2006. By the time Jagger was born in June, she had already made the decision to come back to the sport. It happened here, at Indian Wells, her first tournament as a professional and the one where she had her first date with Jon. She was eight months pregnant.

"I had a hat on, a big stomach," Davenport remembered. "I was watching some of my friends play doubles and just hanging out. Just being in the tennis atmosphere for the first time since being pregnant was a real draw for me. I felt a lot of emotions. I remember saying that to my husband, and he was like, `Whatever. We'll worry about the baby first, then deal with it later.'"

Later came startlingly soon.

Four months after Jagger was born, Davenport played doubles at the Pilot Pen tournament in New Haven, Conn. And then, after sitting out the U.S. Open and an 11-month sabbatical from singles, she won two of the three tournaments she entered, Bali and Quebec City. In Bali, she knocked off No. 1 seed Jelena Jankovic and No. 2 Daniela Hantuchova.

After winning 13 of 14 matches last year, Davenport has been nearly as good in 2008. She won tournaments in Auckland, New Zealand, and Memphis, Tenn., sandwiched around a 1-1 Fed Cup record against Germany and a tough 6-1, 6-3 loss to Maria Sharapova in the second round of the Australian Open.

And this is the rub. While Davenport usually prevails against lesser lights like Aravane Rezai and Olga Govortsova -- her opponents in those two championship finals -- she is eager to test herself against the better players. Her deep groundstrokes are too much for weaker players like Dulko, but the power of the likes of Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Serena Williams can expose the lack of mobility that comes with being 6-foot-2 and nearly 32 years old.

"I'm like, 'OK, let's get some players in the top 20, top 10, and let me play against them,'" Davenport said.

Be careful what you wish for. The two-time Indian Wells champion (1997 and 2000) and six-time doubles winner had an early favorable draw that featured Dulko in the second round and Yung-Jan Chan in the third. But now comes the heavy metal: No. 9-ranked Marion Bartoli in Wednesday's round of 16 and, if Davenport continues to advance, No. 4-ranked Jankovic in the quarterfinals and No. 2-ranked Ana Ivanovic in the semifinals. Sharapova, ranked No. 5, would be the most likely opponent waiting in the final.

The fathers who play on the ATP -- including Jonas Bjorkman, Lleyton Hewitt and Tim Henman -- report that children provide a welcome distraction when it comes to the business of tennis.

After 14 seasons -- 10 of them in the top 10 and four that ended with the No. 1 ranking -- for Davenport, the same sentiment applies.

"There's no time really to fret about anything or to kind of lament matches," Davenport said. "Move on, one step in front of the other, and the next day comes."

Pacific Life Open tournament director Steve Simon, who knows her well, said, "She has embraced [motherhood] and found a perfect balance. Lindsay's not out here to play exhibition tennis, ceremonial tennis. She's serious about it. It's fun to watch her play and compete.

"She's at a point in her life and her career where she can play for the love of competition."

After winning $21,942,684 -- No. 1 on the WTA's all-time career money list -- Davenport is indeed playing with house money. She isn't sure what 2009 holds, but she's not ruling anything out.

"I absolutely never thought I would be playing this long, that I would ever be playing with a child and traveling the world," Davenport said. "But, you know, life takes changes. As you get older, you realize maybe how much you love something, how you're not ready to give it up yet.

"I've really just been going with what I want to do the last few years. With the support of my husband, the rest of my family, it's been great. I've been able to accomplish that, do everything I want to do."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.