by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

WIMBLEDON, England — How about this? A couple of normal American kids won at Wimbledon. By “normal” I mean no drug busts, no police records, no terrorizing fathers, no private jets, no exposed belly buttons, no Barbra Streisand infatuations, no earrings. Well. I take that back. The girl wore earrings. But in her ears, not her nose.

Such common-sense Americana was all over the hallowed Wimbledon courts Monday. Bye-bye, glamour, hello, Lake Wobegon. I half expected someone to come out after the matches and show us how to plant corn. This anti-glitz mood came mostly from Todd (“I’m Just Your Average Midwestern Kid”) Martin and Lindsay
(“I’m Just Your Average Southern California Kid”) Davenport. Maybe you never heard of either one. Never mind. Andre Agassi and Gabriela Sabatini have.

They’re going home because of them.

We’ll get to Martin — a local hero to us Michigan folks — in a moment, because his success in beating the one-time Wimbledon champ, Agassi, Mr. Hairy

Chest, is big news, but less startling. After all, Martin did win Queen’s, the grass tournament just down the road, a few weeks back.

Compare that to Davenport, who at the time was halfway across the world,

celebrating her high school graduation in Murrieta, Calif.

“All the seniors spent the night locked in the gym,” she recalled. “They had fun stuff for us to do, like a hypnosis show, and rock climbing, and beach volleyball. Then they let us out at six in the morning.”

OK. So it’s not how you or I did high school graduation. Personally, I can’t recall rock climbing or volleyball, but the words “locked up” and “six in the morning” ring a bell. Never abnormal

But here’s the point. Lindsay Davenport is 18 years old. She finished school, on time, and has never entered a rehab center or a psychotherapist’s office. Nor, by the looks of it, does she stick a finger down her throat after meals. This puts her miles ahead of many tennis-playing female peers.

And we should celebrate that.

“Do you fear being cast as normal?” a British journalist asked Davenport Monday, after she stomped Sabatini, 6-1, 6-3, to reach the quarterfinals.

“Do I fear being normal?” Davenport cracked up. “I am normal. I have a great fear of becoming abnormal!”

That’s the spirit. Davenport, who turned pro last year, flew here the day after graduation. She admitted that her concentration was more on high school than Wimbledon. Yet, after cradle-robbed stars such as Jennifer Capriati (pro at 13, rehab at 18), Monica Seles (pro at 15, recovering from stab wound) and Sabatini (pro at 14, always looks like she wants to go home), Davenport seems positively . . . mature.

“Girls don’t need to be out here at 14 or 15 years old,” she said. “This is a job. People like Jennifer never got to do anything normal.”

There’s that word again.

Of course, if you thought “normal” was a good fit for the chunky, 6-foot-2, Rosie O’Donnell-looking Davenport, wait’ll you check out Martin. He doesn’t just look normal. He rolls around in it. Oh, deer

On Monday, Martin, who turns 24 on July 8, took on Agassi, 24, at Centre Court, which, around here, is like Jim Nabors opening for Aerosmith.

Every point Agassi won was greeted with a teenage roar. Every point Martin won was greeted with polite applause. You can imagine what “normal” Todd — who doesn’t wear earrings, doesn’t date starlets, doesn’t have specially tailored shirts that reveal his belly button — was thinking when he blew a 2-0 lead and was forced to a fifth set.

Blitz him.

Well. That’s what he did. Martin crushed Agassi in the homestretch. Won the first five games, lost one, won the next. Game, set, match.

“He took it to another level,” Agassi moaned. “He was hitting huge shots. I couldn’t keep up with his fifth set.”

As the Zen Master departed, he was mobbed by a screaming horde of teenage girls. In the press room, someone asked Martin, “Do you feel like the man who shot Bambi?” — apparently referring to Bambi’s mother.

“In my eyes,” he answered, grinning, “there aren’t too many similarities between Andre and Bambi.”

Except maybe the fur, but that’s another story. Martin grew up in Lansing, you probably knew that, and he, too, graduated from high school, went to college (Northwestern) and finally turned pro at 20 (as opposed to Agassi, who sprang out of a tennis academy at age 16).

Martin has been climbing ever since. Soft-spoken, smart, he is one of the world’s top 10 players, yet this is how he describes himself:

“I’m from Lansing, Michigan. That says it all. I enjoy Midwestern things, shooting baskets against a garage door hoop, eating dinner on the porch on hot, humid nights. I’m normal — maybe even the other side of normal. Maybe a

little bland.”

Well. You think about some other stars we’ve sent to Wimbledon over the years, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, spitting and cursing; Tracy Austin and Capriati, too young for their own good; Agassi and his carefully shaped image; Jim Courier, so distant he read a book during a match — and you know what? Maybe normal, even bland, isn’t so bad. It beats handcuffs and hair transplants.

And it’s made it to the quarterfinals of Wimbledon. A couple of normal Americans? Whoda thunk it? I’m half-inclined to run out and buy a Farmer’s Almanac.

If these two win the whole thing, I won’t be the only one.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

New book, The Little Liar, arrives November 14. Get the details »

Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

Subscribe for bonus content and giveaways!