Glory for Davenport, goodbye for Graf

Yank's 6-4, 7-5 win marks end of an era


WIMBLEDON, England -- Before she could win Wimbledon, Lindsay Davenport had to make peace with the place.

She needed to cope with scuffed grass, rotten weather and imposing history. She had to learn to hold her nerve when the whole tennis world was watching.

And then, she had to send a legend packing.

Davenport defeated Steffi Graf, 6-4, 7-5, to win her first Wimbledon title yesterday.

She played with power and speed, taking hold of a match and a sport, cramming a lifetime's tennis education into one gray afternoon, until she finally blasted one last serve that Graf blocked back into the net. And all Davenport could do was turn her back to the court and cry, as the match and title belonged to her.

"I was in such shock," Davenport said. "I was like, `Oh, my God, I can't believe I did it.' "

Yet it was a bittersweet moment, for as Davenport was celebrating her achievement, Germany's Graf was leaving the grass-court stage for the final time, announcing that this was her last Wimbledon match.

At 30, with seven Wimbledon titles and 22 Grand Slam championships, the often-injured Graf has little left to accomplish.

"Right now, I'm a little sad about everything, which is normal for the moment," Graf said. "In a way, I feel like a winner getting out of this tournament."

Although she declined to comment on playing later this summer in the U.S. Open, it's apparent that Graf is on the last lap of her career. Last month, she won the French Open and bid farewell to Roland Garros.

And she was aiming to do the same at Wimbledon. Not wanting to take away from Davenport's moment of triumph, though, Graf left Centre Court without giving a last wave, as the cheers rained down on a new champion.

Davenport, 23, from Newport Beach, Calif., became the first American woman to win Wimbledon since Martina Navratilova in 1990.

She didn't lose a set and beat two champions, Jana Novotna in the quarterfinals and Graf in the final, to claim her title.

She also climbed back to No. 1 in women's tennis.

And perhaps more importantly, the reigning U.S. Open champion showed she's not a one-slam wonder.

"I've won the two biggest tournaments there are in the world," Davenport said. "Few players can say it. And it's an amazing resume."

She defied the experts and oddsmakers. And she also proved to herself that she can play on grass. During the past few years, Davenport shed pounds and worked on conditioning. She learned how to cope with the skids and footing on grass.

"If you feel like you're hitting the ball well and early, then anything can happen," Davenport said.

Against Graf, she unleashed a backhand winner to get up a service break in the opening game, and never let go of the match. She rallied from the baseline, hitting thudding forehands that prevented Graf from attacking.

Davenport efficiently served out the first set. Then, she showed uncommon maturity in the second set. With Davenport serving at 30-15, 4-5, rain swept through the All England Club, forcing the players off the court for 30 minutes.

When they returned, Davenport ran the table.

She held serve, broke Graf by driving a forehand winner and then served out for the title.

"I'm telling you, it was the most unbelievable thing that I was not nervous," Davenport said. "It was so bizarre."

And so utterly unexpected. Yet she was on a roll, later teaming with Corina Morariu to win the doubles title. Her Wimbledon was nearly perfect, except for one thing: She hadn't packed a party dress for the post-tournament dinner.

Graf, too, had failed to deal with one last detail. She wanted to end her last Wimbledon with a win, but had to settle for a difficult defeat.

"Right now, it's disappointing because I didn't play up to that level that I can," Graf said. "Unfortunately, my backhand didn't work very well. My forehand, I guess, played OK."

Yet she still gave this place memories to treasure. There was the first title over Martina Navratilova in 1988, the rout of Monica Seles in 1992 and her tense duels with Aranxta Sanchez-Vicario in 1995 and 1996, her last championship year.

There was also everything she had to overcome -- back, knee and foot injuries and tax problems that hounded her father, Peter.

"I never thought I fought a war," she said. "There have been difficult times. They've been well-documented. And there are unbelievable times. It has been a lot of fun. But I guess, yes, there's going to be a certain time when I've got to move on with something else in my life."

So, Wimbledon served up a nearly perfect final, after all.

One champion was crowned. And another made a graceful exit.

NOTE: In addition to the doubles title won by Davenport and Morariu over Mariaan de Swardt and Elena Tatarkova, 6-4, 6-4, Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes took the men's doubles title, defeating Paul Haarhuis and Jared Palmer, 6-7 (10-12), 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4). Paes teamed with Lisa Raymond for the mixed doubles title, defeating Mark Knowles and Elena Likhovtseva, 6-2, 6-4.

Graf's slams

Steffi Graf says she's played her last Wimbledon and won't commit to the U.S. Open. Even if she never wins another Grand Slam singles title, she ranks among the all-time best.

Player A F W U T

Margaret Court 11 5 3 5 24

Steffi Graf 4 6 7 5 22

Helen Moody 0 4 8 7 19

Martina Navratilova 3 2 9 4 18

Chris Evert 2 7 3 6 18

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