NEW HAVEN — Like many teenagers, Brielle Behuniak sometimes struggles to find a delicate balance between school, sports and her social life. There’s never enough time in the day for Behuniak to do everything she wants, so she must make sacrifices. Such is life.
“School can be very stressful. … You may not be able to go to your friend’s one day because you have a project or something,” said Behuniak, a rising junior at Naugatuck. “That stinks, but school’s important and so are sports.”
Fortunately, Behuniak, a three-sport athlete in tennis, basketball and volleyball, feels like she has a better grasp on how to juggle her jam-packed schedule after heeding the advice of a former world class athlete.
Lindsay Davenport, the 2005 Pilot Pen champion and former top-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, spoke to more than 100 high school student-athletes Monday at the Connecticut Tennis Center for the Anthem Girls Symposium.
“With four kids, and I work, I’ve got to figure out a lot of things in the day,” said Davenport, 42, who retired from her playing career in 2010. “That started at a very young age for me, trying to plan my day and trying to figure out who I wanted to practice with at what times, when I was going to study for finals.”
Davenport, who turned pro when she was just 16 and proceeded to skip college, won 55 singles titles — including three Grand Slam titles — 38 doubles titles and an Olympic gold medal in a career spanning 17 years. She was ranked No. 1 in the world eight times.
“You’ve got to enjoy the journey a little bit,” Davenport told the crowd. “Life probably gets a little tougher as you get older.”
In hindsight, Davenport wishes she would’ve relayed that advice to her younger self — the one who needlessly worried about things she couldn’t control.
Over her more than 20 minutes with the microphone, Davenport recited several stories, including how she once locked herself in her hotel room for 48 hours following a loss because she didn’t know how to cope with losing.
“I was always more afraid to lose than I kind of was happy to win,” she said. “Sometimes it’s a torturous way to approach a sport. I would always be out there and I’d be thinking, especially when I was a pro, ‘I know somebody’s practicing more than me and I know somebody’s working harder than me somewhere, trying to keep up.’
“I loved to play tennis. I didn’t necessarily love to play in front of people. I would’ve loved it if all of the tournaments were on a side court. Truly, I did suffer with anxiety.”
Those anxieties followed Davenport off the court.
“All through the 90s, I would stress about what they’d write about me in the newspaper,” she admitted.
Davenport found resilience through sports. She learned lessons that she now passes on to Madison Keys, the World’s No. 14 player whom Davenport has coached on and off since 2015.
“I’m 42 and she’s 23, but we enjoy being around each other and are great friends,” Davenport said. “I’m her mentor or whatever you want to say. You can say she could be my daughter. She’s a great young lady who sometimes struggles with what it’s like to be a young professional tennis player and have a lot of pressure on you.”
Davenport felt a sense of nostalgia returning to New Haven, where she was a six-time finalist. She participated Monday night in a mixed doubles exhibition along with James Blake.
“This has always been one of my favorite tournaments,” she said. “I always loved the town, the people were always so great to me. I always loved coming here and almost escaping New York as long as possible before the craziness of the U.S. Open.”
There was nothing for Davenport to worry about on Monday, only lessons to be passed on.