Davenport storms into final

Rout of Stevenson sets up match vs. Graf

July 04, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- For nearly two weeks, Lindsay Davenport was Wimbledon's quiet woman, winning quickly and retreating to the sidelines.

But during yesterday's women's semifinals, Davenport came out swinging and left with a triumphant scream.

She unloaded sledgehammer ground strokes on the scarred Centre Court grass and ended the remarkable run of qualifier Alexandra Stevenson with a devastating, 6-1, 6-1, victory.

"That was for winning 1 and 1 in the semifinals and doing it on a surface I used to hate in '93 and '94," Davenport said of her victory shout.

The win helped Davenport reclaim the top spot in women's tennis and launched her into today's final against seven-time champion Steffi Graf, who slipped by Mirjana Lucic, 6-7 (3-7), 6-4, 6-3.

"To get it [No. 1] back after being far down again is a great pleasure," Davenport said. "But getting to the Wimbledon final far outshines it."

One day soon, Davenport against Stevenson, two tall players from Southern California, might be as good a rivalry as there is in women's tennis.

But not yet.

After being on a remarkable roll for nearly two weeks, Stevenson finally played like she was supposed to all along. She was the first women's qualifier to reach the semifinals -- and it showed.

Playing on Centre Court for the first time, Stevenson lost the first 11 points of the match and never recovered.

"It wasn't nerves, it was just rushing," Stevenson said.

Despite the setback, Stevenson didn't seem all that upset. She survived a rocky Wimbledon and made off with her first professional paycheck. Asked what she would like to spend the money on, the 18-year-old said a house, a Volvo convertible or a washer-dryer for her mother.

She also took away something else from Wimbledon -- an incredible experience and self-belief that she can come back next year and win.

"I made history here," she said. "I'll always remember this Wimbledon."

Yet Stevenson's life will likely never be the same, with all the commotion caused after it was revealed her father is former basketball great Julius Erving.

"I was talking to my mom the other night and I said, `I'm going home and everything is going to be normal,' and she goes, `I don't think so,' " Stevenson said.

Life could also be trying for Stevenson on the women's tour. Other players were outraged by comments attributed to Stevenson's mother, Samantha. She reportedly said there is lesbianism on the women's tour and said her daughter was subjected to a racial taunt during a junior event last year.

The comments made for interesting reading back home, according to Davenport, who said: "I was talking to my sister and she was like, `Well, you know, what are you? A dictator? A racist? After her daughter?' "

Davenport offered this advice to Stevenson's mother:

"I just think, let her daughter play," Davenport said. "Her daughter is 18, she's obviously an adult now. She'll be fine. She's a great girl. She's smart, and she can play tennis. Just leave her alone. Don't bring her into all these controversies."

After all, Davenport's way of winning quietly seems to work best. Overlooked at the start of Wimbledon, she's now in the final, aiming to add a second Grand Slam after winning last year's U.S. Open.

But to do it, she'll have to beat Graf, winner of 22 Grand Slams.

"It's going to be difficult," Davenport said. "You have to play aggressive with Steffi on grass. You have to serve well, do everything well."

Perhaps most of all, an opponent has to cope with Graf's aura. She seems to never lose the big games, even on an off-day.

Playing with a muscle strain in her upper left leg that forced her to withdraw from mixed doubles with John McEnroe, Graf wasn't at her best. But she still managed to fend off the challenge of Lucic, who played aggressively, displaying power and perseverance in a taut match.

At 30, how does Graf explain her career renaissance?

"I guess it's determination," she said. "It's the love to go out there and train hard. I have my lazy days. But maybe they are just a few less than others have."

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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