By Jane Voigt
MIAMI, FL (March 24, 2013) — How does a tournament fare when it loses star power? Sure, Venus Williams is out, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were never in, and Juan Martin del Potro lost early. That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty to see here at Sony Open Tennis, where a slew of story-lines and drama played out today.
Case in point: American and “Lucky Loser” Lauren Davis.
Davis’ chance to play in the main draw of the Sony Open Tennis finally materialized, as luck would have it, a couple of days ago. In her three previous appearances in Miami, Davis lost in qualifications with her first attempt coming in 2010 when she was ranked No. 896 in the world.
But when the No. 2 seed Victoria Azarenka withdrew with an ankle injury the day of her second round opener (as a seed, Azarenka had a bye in the first round) on Friday, Davis jumped all over what many would call fate or a godsend. For Davis the green light was an obvious invitation to swing out.
Up against her friend and fellow American teen, Madison Keys in the second round, Davis fought through to a win taking the dramatic third-set tiebreak 9-7. Her victory came the same day as Jamie Hampton, another team America player lost her third-set tiebreak to Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro, the No. 20 seed.
Davis had landed on the high plain and awaited Alize Cornet of France, the tournament’s 32nd-seed, in the third round.
With Cornet at 23 years old and Davis at just 19, both young women had a lot riding on their match today. Davis, ranked No. 81, continued to feel the breezes of a breakthrough and wanted nothing more to move on in the draw. Cornet aimed to sustain her upward trend in the rankings, which peaked in February 2009, at world No. 11, and fell to a low of No. 89 in 2011.
However, Lauren Davis’ luck ran out today. On fire from the first game and throughout the first set, Davis completely overwhelmed Cornet. Davis blasted winners off first serves and smacked backhands with the conviction of a champion. The match would certainly go her way, at least that was the vibe a predominantly American audience exuded.
Both women hunkered down as rallies lengthened, with fan murmurs rising as each stroke popped inside the small stadium and an anticipation became palpable. Who would make the error, the gusty winds proving a technical hazard from one end of the court.
They threw in loopy moon balls and Cornet executed precise drop shots that forced Davis to peddle with the speed of light up to the net and face the foreseen error. She consistently arrived late.
In the eighth game, Davis went down 0-40, and saved three break points only to lose her hold on the match with a double fault.
To add insult to injury, Davis was stung by a wasp.
In the third set, Davis obviously had nothing in the tank and a welt on her upper thigh to boot. Her crisp groundies struggled to penetrate the court. Cornet, although dragging, was quicker to take advantage of opportunities that had propelled her at the start of the match.
As the time clock ticked away — for a grueling 2 hours and 23 minutes — Cornet found rhythm and stamina and her serve, which were totally missing early on, while Davis meanwhile struggled to maintain her form. Cornet pressed the 19-year-old American in the second set, staking ground for her comeback and eventual win, 2-6 6-3 6-2.
“We were both pretty worn down at the end,” Davis admitted. “She kept the ball in play better in the end.”
Davis, though, was not discouraged by her loss. She knew the experience would benefit her game and pro career, which only began two years ago.
“It’s been a great experience,” she said, still showing signs of disappointment. “It was a pleasant surprise to make it this far. I’m happy to improve. I need to adjust my diet and fitness. I needed more endurance today.”
Davis will now return to the Evert Tennis Academy. She moved from Cleveland, her birthplace, to Boca Raton and smiled as she recalled the moment.
“It was the best decision of my life to move from Cleveland,” she said emphatically. “It’s like a family there for me. I’ve learned so much.”
Over the course of her young career, Lauren has scored wins over Yanina Wickmayer, a top 25 player, and Sorana Cirstea earlier this year in Hobart. Today, Cirstea surprised No. 6 seed Angelique Kerber in a lopsided 6-4 6-0 victory also in Miami.
Although Davis’ match could be categorized as lopsided, it ended up as a match of attrition.
Fans were obviously disheartened, as they tromped down the stairs and out to another match. But they should remain heartened. Davis’s five-foot-two stature embraces a huge heart, competitive spirit and game that could lift her to the top 20 in the near future.