Finally, Davenport, Hingis No. 2 powers past Williams

'97 champ beats Novotna in 3

September 12, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Lindsay Davenport lifted her racket over her head and applauded the crowd at the Arthur Ashe Stadium court after winning her first Grand Slam semifinal and setting up a meeting with No. 1 Martina Hingis in today's women's final at the U.S. Open.

"It's a terrific feeling," said Davenport after her 6-4, 6-4 victory over No. 5 seed Venus Williams. "I feel relief and happiness -- an almost unbelievable feeling.

"No one ever said when I was growing up [that] I was ever going to be any good or get to a Grand Slam final; or in my teens, I wasn't expected to do anything. I think I've really proven a lot of people wrong.

"I think I've tried so hard to do the best I can. I'm not the most unbelievable athlete. I'm not anything. I just tried so hard to get where I'm at. I think it's great."

Hingis will defend her title after a late rally that overcame a 4-1, third-set deficit to beat No. 3 Jana Novotna, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

The women's final will be played sometime after 1: 30 p.m. today, sandwiched between the 11 a.m. men's semifinal featuring No. 10 seed Carlos Moya against Mark Philippoussis and the scheduled 3: 30 p.m. meeting between No. 1 Pete Sampras and No. 3 seed and defending champion Patrick Rafter.

All three matches are scheduled to be carried live by CBS.

While no one may have projected Davenport, 22, as a top-echelon player before she made it to the women's pro tour, she has been viewed as a future star ever since her rookie year in 1993, when she was Rookie of the Year.

Since then, nearly everyone has been waiting for Davenport to shape up and mature into the player she is now.

This year, she made the semifinals of both the Australian and French opens before losing to Conchita Martinez and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, respectively, and the quarterfinals at Wimbledon, where she lost to Nathalie Tauziat. But so far at the National Tennis Center she has been the best player on site, having yet to drop a set.

Hingis, however, has to be wondering what game she will be playing. The teen-age phenom, who turns 18 Sept. 30, has been up and down all year. Yesterday's semifinal was a mirror image of the season.

Against Novotna, her doubles partner, Hingis waited until it was almost too late before lifting her game to wipe out a 4-1 deficit and move into the final.

"Actually, I was down 4-1 and sitting in my chair, and I said, 'No way I'm going to lose again in semifinals,' " said Hingis, who lost in the semifinals in the French Open and Wimbledon.

"I was like, you know, 'At least you've got to make the finals or just change something.' Because I -- you know, everybody expected me to do better."

Everyone expected Novotna to do better, too. But the 1998 Wimbledon champion, who seemed to have escaped her "choker" tag, did little to help herself in her match yesterday.

After dominating the first set, she suddenly lost her game. The strong serve was gone. The ground strokes disappeared. Even her brilliant volley game deserted her.

"I was very aggressive in the first set, but it took a lot out of me," said Novotna, who made a total of 50 unforced errors to Hingis' 19.

"Still, I don't think being tired had anything to do with my mistakes. [I] Simply made the mistakes. I can't really explain it.

"I mean, as well as everything was working in the previous matches -- my backhand volleys and everything -- today suddenly at 4-1, I started to miss most of them."

At 15-30 of the sixth game in the final set, Hingis got what appeared to be a bad call from a line judge, who had seemed to miss several long balls earlier when Novotna was on the same side of the court.

At that point, not only did Hingis become outraged -- "It was a big moment. I didn't like being down 4-1 and then at 30-30, when I could have had two break points at 15-40," she said -- but the crowd went wild.

Fans began screaming at the line judge. "Get rid of her!" shouted one spectator. "Get rid of the line judge," yelled several others as boos rained down.

When the line judge made calls that went against Novotna, the Czech complained to the umpire to no avail.

This time, Hingis walked toward her, drew a line in the air above where she thought the ball had landed and seemed to glare the question, "What are you looking at?"

At that point, Hingis said she could have been had, but Novotna missed a putaway on the next point and Hingis blasted a forehand that set up break point, which she won to begin her rally.

Over the last five games of the set, Hingis won 26 points to Novotna's six and, down the stretch, after that line call that made it 30-30, she won 15 of the next 17 points.

Today, Hingis will be looking at an overpowering player. She knows it and so does Davenport. Yesterday, Davenport just about blasted Williams from the court with her forehand, cross-court winners.

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