ON VERGE OF QUITTING, DAVIS LOVING
TENNIS MORE THAN EVER
Ashley Marshall | April 21, 2017
WESLEY CHAPEL, Fla. - Meet Lauren Davis the tennis player. She's ranked No. 36 in the world, hits a two-handed backhand and is making her third appearance with the U.S. Fed Cup team.
Now meet Lauren Davis the person. She's the daughter of a nurse and a cardiologist, she grew up in a tiny midwest suburb east of Cleveland and she loves sitting down with a book and spending time in the ocean.
That's how Davis wants people to see her, not as a superstar who jets across the world from tournament to tournament in search of elusive ranking points and the paychecks that accompany them.
But it's hard. General sports fans may not know too much about the Ohio native who is quickly becoming one of the best players in the world, and tennis fans only see her between the lines wielding a Wilson racquet and decked out in Nike apparel.
"I'm not just a tennis player," said Davis, currently slated to partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands against the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup semifinal on Sunday. "Obviously I do want to win, but that's not all there is.
"I like to surf, I love being in the ocean. Just anything in the water. I love to read and I love the beach and I love nature. My dream is to inspire other people, little kids who look at the game of tennis or the sport in general and see all these giants."
After winning the Orange Bowl as a junior in 2010 and turning pro the very next year, right before the Australian Open, Davis needed time to adjust to the rigors of life as a pro.
She found the transition to the new level of competition difficult, becoming too focused on where the next victory was coming from instead of being able to play freely with a smile on her face – as she did growing up in Gates Mills, Ohio, less than 30 minutes' drive from the banks of Lake Erie.
"I've been through a lot of ups and downs, and my eyes have been opened to a lot of things," Davis said. "It took me at least a couple of years to get the hang of being on the WTA tour. The level is completely different. You're playing for your well-being, it brings home the bacon at the end of the day.
"For those first several years on tour, I was so caught up in and so focused on the results. It was always about winning and losing. I based my self-worth, my identity, on my results, and that just had me burned out at the end of the day and took me to the point where I wanted to quit tennis. I told myself that I had to change something if I was going to make the most of the gifts I've been given, because that's what I've been called to do and all I've ever wanted to do."
Davis came close to leaving tennis for good several times over the past five years, most recently in 2016 when she took six weeks off after losing to British wild card Katie Swan, ranked outside the Top 500, in the first round of qualifying in Miami.
"It's definitely very tough," said Davis, who was a Fed Cup practice partner when the team traveled to Antwerp, Belgium, in 2011, three years before she made her international team debut against Italy in Cleveland. "It all comes down to awareness and looking inside yourself. What ultimately I want at the end of the day is to be happy and joyful and loving life. And that comes from enjoying the process and building the relationships I have around me, because if I have that, the results will take care of themselves.
"I met some new people and they helped me open my eyes to see that I'm more of a whole person rather than just a tennis player. I've picked up some different interests and learned a lot of different things about myself."
The new perspective on life has been reflected on the court. She reached the final of her first two events last year, in Washington and Quebec City, and then defeated four seeded players to claim her first title in Auckland to open the 2017 season. She followed that with a run to the Doha quarterfinals as a qualifier and then to the final eight in Dubai one week later.
In focusing less on the results, the results have improved. Has that made her enjoy her time on the court more?
"Not just tennis, but life," Davis said. "I'm enjoying it more than I ever have. I have some great people around me and I've been blessed with that. I've grown a lot as a person and I've got a lot more growth and cool experiences ahead of me."