In 1st Slam final, Davenport rolls Hingis falls, 6-3, 7-5, as winner silences critics at U.S. Open

September 13, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Lindsay Davenport gripped the trophy that comes with the U.S. Open championship and kissed it like she meant it.

It had taken her six long years on the women's professional tennis tour just to make it to a Grand Slam final -- this one. Yesterday, it took her 81 minutes to defeat world No. 1 Martina Hingis, 6-3, 7-5, and claim her first Grand Slam championship.

"I can't really say how it feels," said Davenport, 22, the emotion raw in her throat. "It was amazing. You never know what your response or your reaction's going to be. You can't put into words how much it means, playing for so many years and being a pro for so many years, and this being the goal -- always.

"It seriously is the greatest feeling you can experience being a professional athlete."

She is the All-American girl next door. A little chubby when she came on tour, she has worked for six years to overcome the criticism that she wasn't reaching her pro potential.

Yesterday, the trim, 6-foot-1 Californian was able to track down a sliced drop shot cross court to put away match point.

With that shot, Davenport became the first American-born woman since Chris Evert in 1982 to win the U.S. Open singles title and the first American citizen to win since Martina Navratilova in 1987.

As the sun beat down on the Arthur Ashe Stadium court, Davenport and Hingis took part in a wonderful, old-fashioned match. Not only did they compete in high style, they did it in silence. No grunts. It probably took awhile for the biggest crowd of the two-week tournament to figure out what was so strange.

It was so silent during volley exchanges, even the people in the faraway blue seats in the upper deck could hear the sweet, solid sound of the ball popping off the rackets.

But the sound was more substantial on Davenport's side of the net.

"Lindsay just hit the ball so solid," said Hingis, who maintained her No. 1 ranking over Davenport, who is now within 145 points and will move up to No. 2 tomorrow, when the new rankings are released.

"It's like in baseball a little bit. Lindsay's ball flies to you and all of a sudden it makes a curve and you feel like, 'Hey, where is the ball going at?' Lindsay's ball is just very long, and you don't really know what to do about it."

Davenport took the first set with seeming ease, though she did appear to get a break during the third game when she managed the only break in the set.

The controversy, the first of the day, but not the last, came as chair umpire Dessie Samuels of Terrell, Texas, overruled a line judge and called a Davenport liner good. She ordered a replay and Davenport won the point when Hingis' forehand went into the net.

The umpire would come into play again in the seventh game of that set when Davenport's hat flew off as she was making an error on a volley. Again, the umpire ordered a replay of the point because the rule book requires it.

"I know the rules," Hingis said, "I know the rules. It's true, you have to play over again. But I don't like this rule. It's not fair for the player, like me, because I had the point won.

"I mean, it's her mistake if the hat falls down, not my mistake. Who knows, if I was down only 4-3, maybe I would come back, but then it's 5-2 and I lost set."

Hingis said she had no problem playing Davenport, an American, in the U.S. Open final. But when she heard the umpire was from Texas, she was not happy.

"I thought it was pretty ridiculous, that it was an American umpire, too," she said. "If you have another, like from Australia or from Europe, it [would seem more fair]. But, you know, I don't want to take anything away from Lindsay. She had an awesome tournament. I mean, she didn't lose one set. You know she deserves it."

If Hingis had doubts in the first set, she had none in the second. She and Davenport exchanged breaks early on, but Davenport's forehands were beginning to make an impression. One, a cross-court passing shot, actually brought a Hingis scream.

And though Hingis broke her again to go up 5-4, Davenport refused to give in. She simply lifted her game.

"I was able to get my footing back," Davenport said. "And the sight of the title at the end of the tunnel is what kept me going. I knew I had to attack her."

With Davenport blasting forehands left and right, Hingis won just three points in the last three games.

When match point arrived, Davenport ran for Hingis' drop shot and struck a winning backhand cross court.

With that, she clasped her hands to her face and doubled over. When she straightened, she looked toward her box. There, Davenport's mother, Ann, whose birthday it was, and her two sisters and their husbands were on their feet in a joyous display.

The tears welled up in Davenport's eyes.

The smile broke through.

The long climb to the summit was over.

Slam history

Lindsay Davenport is the third Olympic gold medalist (Atlanta, 1996) to win the Open singles title, joining Steffi Graf (Seoul, 1988) and Helen Wills Moody (Paris, 1924).

She is the seventh player in the open era to win the U.S. Open without dropping a set, joining Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Monica Seles, Graf and Martina Hingis. Evert did it three times, King and Navratilova twice each.

This year marks the first time since 1990, and only the sixth time in the open era, that four different women have won the year's four Grand Slam titles. Hingis won the Australian Open, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario won the French, Jana Novotna took Wimbledon and Davenport the Open.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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