Lauren Davis: The small American with the big game

As Lauren Davis makes her way onto court, you could perhaps be forgiven for thinking you are about to watch a junior tennis match. At just 5ft 2in tall, the 23 year old American is, without a doubt, one of the shorter players on the WTA tour right now. Couple her size with her youthful looks and her opponent stood on the opposite side of the net may be fooled into thinking that they are in for an easy ride. However, the fact of the matter is, that when you come up against Davis, size doesn't matter and that is something that she has proven time and time again.


I have been lucky enough to watch Davis in a live setting on two occasions. The first time was at WTA Nottingham in 2015 where I saw her defeat Ajla Tomljanovic in a gruelling three set affair. The second time was at the 2016 Australian Open where she beat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also in three sets. What I noticed in both matches was a real determination and a huge will to win radiating from her every step of the way. On both occasions she lost the opening set but fought back to victory. In Australia she was totally outplayed by the Russian seed in the first set. It was a very hot day and she just couldn't cover the ground fast enough to deal with Pavlyuchenkova's power from the baseline. Nevertheless, Davis advanced to round two.

 

The rise of the Ohio born player has been going on for a number of years now and although she has turned a few heads in the process with impressive victories, she has never been in the limelight or received vast amounts of publicity. I guess with all the quality American female tennis players there are it is difficult to get air time! Although 2012 and 2013 provided some big results for Davis such as beating Svetlana Kuznetsova, Sorana Cirstea and Yanina Wickmayer, all of whom were ranked inside the WTA top 30 when she met them, 2014 was when she really came to prominence.

 

Starting the year in Australia can often be tough for some players as the heat can be nothing like they have experienced during their winter break. Performing well down-under can set a player up for a great season and Davis performed very well in 2014. After reaching the quarter final at WTA Auckland she then came through qualifying before going out in round two in Sydney and then reached the third round of the Australian Open, the furthest she had ever been in a Grand Slam. 270 ranking points in less than a month was not a bad way to start 2014.

 

Just two months after her exploits in Australia and New Zealand, Davis was at it again, this time at Indian Wells. After defeating a qualifier in the first round, Victoria Azarenka, the 3rd seed and world number four, was waiting in round two. Although Azarenka hadn't played since the Australian Open due to a foot injury, she was still the strong favourite. Davis stunned and delighted the American crowd as she took the first set 6-0 in just 30 minutes. The Belarusian fought back in the second set and although she was a break of serve up, Davis forced the tie breaker that she won 7-2. It was a first victory over a top 10 player for the American and it announced her on the world stage.

 

Following her heroic display against one of the best players in the world, Davis defeated her fellow compatriot, Vavara Lepchenko in round three in straight sets meaning she hadn't dropped a single set in the tournament so far. Unfortunately her run would end there as illness forced her to withdraw from her fourth round match against Casey Dellacqua. It had however been a career best performance at a WTA Premier event and put her on the brink of breaking into the top 50.  

It would be another year before Davis would defeat a top 10 player again. This time it was Eugenie Bouchard, ranked seven at the time, in April 2015 in Charleston. A 6-3 6-1 victory proved yet again that the 5ft 2in American could certainly pack a punch and should not be underestimated. Despite those early successes, by the time I watched her against Pavlyuchenkova in January 2016 she would find herself outside the WTA top 100. A disappointing run would follow the Australian Open as she went on to lose seven matches against players outside of the top 100 between then and Wimbledon 2016.

 

Then, in the second half of 2016 came a revival and the early signs that the Lauren Davis that had defeated players like Azarenka, Bouchard and Kuznetsova was finally back. She reached two WTA finals, the first of her career, in Washington DC and Quebec City where she was the runner up on both occasions. Add to that a semi final appearance in Luxembourg and another runner up place in the $100k ITF tournament in Poitiers and Davis would end 2016 ranked 62 in the world, a marked improvement on where she had been just six months prior.


The superb form of late 2016 has continued into 2017 with a first ever WTA tour title in Auckland. Reaching the quarter finals in Doha and Dubai will also have given her great confidence as she has now reached a career high ranking inside the top 40 for the first time in her career. Davis is a player on the up and at 23 years old it really is a case of now or never for the American. If she can continue on the upward trajectory that she has enjoyed at the back end of 2016 and the early part of 2017, then she may well find herself seeded when the summer Grand Slams come around.

 

Davis may not have the fastest serve in the world but due to her height the ball does fire towards her opponent with a flatter profile than say a Naomi Broady serve. Another attribute of her game is just how much court she can cover and the sheer speed at which she does so. So often it looks like the point is lost but she is able to strike the ball at the last moment. She seems to have a fantastic knack of forcing her opponent to play that extra shot or two in order to close out a rally and that can often lead to an error on their part. With a fierce two handed backhand and determination that appears to be made out of steel to boot, just how far can she go?

 

She readily admits that her favourite surface is clay due to her speed around the court. It must therefore bode well for that her only WTA title so far has been on the hard courts of New Zealand. 23 years old may well sound like a veteran in comparison to CiCi Bellis or Kayla Day but Davis clearly still has her best years ahead of her. It is true that her size will make many underestimate her ability but that would be a huge mistake. Can she win more WTA titles? Without a shadow of a doubt, yes. Can she reach the WTA top 20? That will be difficult but must be a goal that she is personally aiming for. On her day she can comfortably beat top 20 players but doing that on different surfaces for a full year will prove tough.

 

With the shots that she has in her locker, the determination that is clear for all to see and bags of confidence, there is absolutely no reason why Davis could not move even further up the rankings. Great Britain witnessed the meteoric rise of Johanna Konta in recent times, perhaps the next player to follow that trend will be Lauren Davis who continues to prove to the world of tennis that size really does not matter.

 

 

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