No. 1 steps in, steps up at Arena Fill-in Davenport meets 'Challenge,' beats No. 3 Novotna

November 25, 1998|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport came into the Chevy Chase Bank Tennis Challenge last night planning to serve well and make No. 3 Jana Novotna pay for as many trips to the net as possible.

It was a serious game plan from the woman, who, like Novotna, had talked about how this exhibition match would be more of a fun show than serious combat.

They kept their words about the fun, as they laughed and joked with one another and the crowd. But they also ended up playing some mighty serious tennis.

In the end, it was Davenport beating Novotna at her own net game down to the last feathery drop volley for a 6-4, 6-3 victory.

"It was the greatest singles match we've ever seen in Baltimore," said Pam Shriver, the chairman and founder of the event, which is expected to clear more than $100,000 and put the 13-year total earned for children's charities over $2 million.

The match lasted nearly 90 minutes, as the two champions entertained the crowd of 8,256, one of the largest in tournament history, with extensive rallies and marvelous shot-making.

Davenport's victory was her sixth in six tries against Novotna, a fact that didn't escape the Wimbledon champion.

"Lindsay, I enjoyed the match very much," Novotna said. "Once again I lost, but just wait. Next year is my turn!"

Davenport, who won the U.S. Open in September, also seemed to have enjoyed the night.

"Pam said I better get myself down here since I was the one who hurt Steffi," Davenport said.

Steffi Graf who was supposed to play in the exhibition but was forced to withdraw after injuring her hamstring in her Chase Championships semifinal loss against Davenport over the weekend.

"I hope it was still OK for you guys," Davenport told the crowd, which responded with a roar. "Maybe next year Pam will ask me first. I'm joking, but I'll try to be back."

Some of the best tennis came in Game 7 of the first set, when the two were in the midst of a four-game run in which neither could hold serve. But in that one game, they demonstrated the fine art of the volley, the baseline ground stroke and the all-court game, throwing in overhead slams and close-up, pity-pat exchanges.

They played six deuces in the game and had one particularly marvelous exchange, as Davenport pounded the ball at Novotna, who stood her ground at the net four times as the ball flew back and forth, before Davenport won the point.

The evening began with Martina Navratilova and U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson beating Shriver and Silver Spring native Harold Solomon, who grew up playing tournaments in Clifton Park here, 6-4.

Through the 10 games, the crowd laughed, cheered, oohed and aahed and even booed once, when Gullikson tried to ace Shriver after she had aced him twice.

"Is everyone here from Baltimore?" Gullikson asked, and got an obvious answer.

Shriver had a difficult night. First she was forced to defend herself against a fierce Gullikson volley, with her racket across her abdomen.

"I might want to have children. You watch out," quipped Shriver, who is getting married in nine days.

Later, Navratilova knocked her former long-time doubles partner to the mat with a slam volley that bounced hard into her chest.

Shriver picked herself up, looked down her shirt to make sure everything was intact and played on.

After the Legends and the singles matches, the Orioles Challenge took center stage, with Brady Anderson and his Newport Beach, Calif., neighbor, Davenport, facing B. J. Surhoff and Novotna.

Always a hit at this event, Anderson won his first service game at love with a series of aces and service winners.

That prompted Novotna to show her pitching and fielding ability. She threw the ball overhand as a serve to Anderson, who blasted a shot right at her. Novotna cleanly fielded the ball.

The crowd roared.

"Now playing second base " intoned Shriver, referring to an Orioles need.

Anderson and Davenport eventually claimed the match by winning a nine-point tiebreaker, 5-4. It was Anderson's fourth straight victory here.

"I think I'm getting better," said Anderson, grinning. "The [baseball] season ends and I play every day for three weeks to get ready. I serve well enough now to give the pros a good workout. I can warm them up. It's a big moment for me."

Pub Date: 11/25/98

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