Third time's the charm for Davenport

After 2 Advanta final losses, No. 2 player a winner, beating top-ranked Hingis

November 15, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

VILLANOVA, Pa. -- For two years, Lindsay Davenport finished runner-up and stood politely beside the podium at the end of the Advanta Championships and watched. First Martina Hingis and then Steffi Graf collected the winner's crystal bowl, the winner's check for $79,000 and a $1,000 cash bonus that the tournament's sponsor called "a little walking-around money" as he rounded the winner's payoff up to a tidy $80,000.

Yesterday, Davenport, ranked second in the world, again stood beside the podium. But this time, with an appreciative crowd of 5,257 filling The Pavilion at Villanova University, Davenport was the one collecting the goodies, having defeated top-ranked Hingis, 6-3, 6-4.

First the check, which had been increased to $80,000. Then the bowl. And finally, Advanta chairman Dennis Alter reached into his pocket and pulled out some cash and put it in the dish.

"You've been in this final three straight years, and, for the last two, you've had to watch Martina and Steffi take all the cash," Alter said. "So here's some folding money, $3,000, a thousand for each year you've made the finals."

Davenport grinned.

Later, she would talk about how surprised she was to be standing there, but for that moment, she just soaked in the accomplishment.

Five weeks ago, in Filderstadt, Germany, Davenport strained ligaments in her wrist. At that point, she suggested to her coach that it had already been a long season, so why not take the rest of the year off?

Her coach, Robert Van't Hof, argued against it.

"Play," he said. "Wouldn't it be great if you could come back and finish strong?"

Van't Hof argued for a week.

"And now," Davenport said, "it's so great to have come here and beaten Martina and Venus [Williams] to win the tournament and end on a high note when even two weeks ago I didn't think I'd be able to play at all."

But play? Did she ever. She powered her way through the field without losing a set. She dominated Alexandra Stevenson, 6-2, 6-3, embarrassed Williams by handing the world's No. 3 player her worst loss of the year, 6-1, 6-2, and then left Hingis no way out in the final match.

"I think it was a very good match," said Hingis, who has already clinched the No. 1 ranking for the year. "It was high-quality, high-speed. But Lindsay's serve kept me off balance, and after she won the first set, she was more confident. But maybe I get another chance [at the Chase Championships in New York this week]."

Hingis and Davenport had played each other 14 times before yesterday, and the series was even at 7-7. Now, Davenport has the advantage, having won not only this match, but also four of their past five meetings.

Of course, Hingis doesn't see it as Davenport dominating, given this was only their second meeting of the year and because she beat Davenport in the Chase final last year.

"If we both get to the finals, it's already very good play by both of us," Hingis said. "Today, I had a few chances to break her serve, but she got herself out of trouble each time. It wasn't that I made mistakes. But you can't let up even a little. It's not good enough to make one or two great shots to win a point. You've got to make three and four great shots. And her serve out wide, that's a big serve.

"I did lose today, but I improved a lot this week overall. She was better today, but I can still improve my game. I know this, and I will do it."

Against Hingis, it was indeed Davenport's serve that paved the way to victory, just as it did against Williams in the semifinal. At 6 feet 2 1/2, Davenport has learned to put a lot of power behind her pitches. She's also learned the dynamics of hitting to the right spots with spin.

In this match, she hit seven aces. They had their effect, but even when she wasn't hitting aces, she was placing the ball so well that it was often all Hingis could do just to reach the ball. And when Hingis did reach it, it was often impossible for her to do anything with it, and that usually meant setting up Davenport with an easy winner.

"You don't just decide one day to make a big serve and a month later have one," Davenport said. "It's taken me years. It's gradually gotten better over the last two years. I'm starting to see the results from all the work.

"I'm more and more confident. I know I can hit any serve I want on any point."

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