I wasn’t watching that much tennis as a kid. Between sport, school and practices, I didn’t have time to just sit and watch but one of the first matches I do remember seeing was when Lindsay Davenport won the 2000 Australian Open. From that moment, I got more into watching her, trying to follow her results as much as I could.
Growing up, I was always looking up to Lindsay. I really liked the way she was on the court. I tried to copy her behavior, the way she acted during matches. She was always so calm on the court. You could hardly see any emotions from her; whatever she may have been feeling inside, she was always trying to be cool.
You can’t be exactly like another player but you can try to emulate their best attributes, so I coveted her mentality in tough moments: how she concentrated and took her time.
I was lucky to meet her while she was still playing but when I meet someone I admire, I’m very shy! As much as I would love to, I would never go up to them and say, ‘You know what? You’ve been my inspiration.’ I would feel kind of silly doing that so, in moments like that, I keep everything inside – excited as I was at the time.
When you see a player on TV and then have to face them in real life, it’s not easy to be up against your idol. The more you compete, though, the more you realize we’re in the same tournaments together and you start to ask, ‘Why can’t I beat her?’
We played three times in our careers and our last match was in Miami back in 2008. Lindsay was coming back after having given birth to a baby boy but was still playing very well. She had just defeated Ana Ivanovic in the previous round.
Not long before that, I began working with a new coach, Zeljko Krajan. We were trying to change a lot of things in my game. At the time, Zeljko was still a new coach so, as much as I trusted him, there were doubts and questions in my head, wondering whether or not I was doing the right things.
I ended up winning the match in straight sets and afterward he told me, ‘You played unbelievably,’ and I think it was the happiest he had ever been with my performance on the court.
He was usually very tough on me but in a good way. He was always pushing me to my limits, asking me to be better and to do more, but when I got off the court against Lindsay, all he could say was how amazingly I played, asking why I’d never played like this before.
That win gave me so much inspiration because I could feel like I was on the right track. It took a weight off my shoulders and made me stop doubting. It was then that I had some of my best results, winning a title in Berlin and making my first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros. A year after my win over Lindsay, I was No.1 in the world.
Now that we’re both retired, we still see each other at tournaments from time to time, even playing one another in Grand Slam Legends events. We most recently spoke in January during the Australian Open, 20 years after I watched her win the title. She has a big family now.
I’m really happy for her and I feel lucky that I chose such a great player to admire when I was growing up.
Interview by David Kane.