Davenport, Capriati can't hold on as Russians rule, gain Open final

Kuznetsova, Dementieva set up a tournament first

September 11, 2004|By Diane Pucin | Diane Pucin,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - Lindsay Davenport had played all summer without the pain in her knee or foot that had troubled her for nearly two years.

Since Wimbledon, Davenport had been sound. Her ground strokes were flawless. Her serve had become a major plus, winning her easy points and making the game fun.

Until yesterday, a day that belonged to the Russians, with two of their women advancing to the U.S. Open final for the first time - each defeating an American.

For Davenport, a groin muscle that was stiff after practice Thursday was achy after warm-ups yesterday and became punishingly painful by the middle of her semifinal match against 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova, a strong, athletic opponent.

By the middle of the third set, Davenport, seeded fifth, could barely run. By the end of the match, a teary Davenport limped off Arthur Ashe Stadium with a 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 loss - frustrated not because her chances of winning a second Open were gone or because her 22-match winning streak had ended, but because her body hadn't allowed her to play her best.

In the other semifinal, Jennifer Capriati had the biggest moment of her career waiting. All she needed to do was buckle down, settle down, hold serve. Or gather her courage and go for a winner here and there, or attack Elena Dementieva's second serve, a cockeyed, wildly spinning softball offering, instead of steering it safely up the middle of the court.

But she didn't do any of that, so Capriati, seeded eighth and embraced loudly from start to finish by the crowd, once again fell short of a U.S. Open final. She lost, 6-0, 2-6, 7-6 (7-5), to the sixth-seeded Dementieva, whose thigh was heavily taped and whose serve seemed held together by string.

So, for the first time since 1988, there will be no Americans in the singles finals of the U.S. Open. And, for the second time this year, a Grand Slam women's final will be between two Russian women - and won for the third time by a Russian.

The men's semifinalists are Roger Federer of Switzerland, Tim Henman of England, Joachim Johansson of Sweden and Lleyton Hewitt of Australia.

Dementieva, 22, played Anastasia Myskina in the French Open final and fared badly. She took less than an hour to lose in straight sets because she could hardly put a first serve in the box. Siberian-born Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open will feature yet another Russian champion.

Capriati is now 0-4 in Open semifinals and for the third time she lost in a third-set tiebreaker. Last year, it was to a cramping Justine Henin-Hardenne; in 1991 it was in a power-hitting classic against Monica Seles that left Capriatiin tears.

She cried again yesterday, sobbing into the shoulder of her mother, Denise, in the locker room after the 2-hour 15-minute match.

"It's kind of hard to really grasp kind of what happened out there," Capriati said.

She is 28 and without a U.S. Open title, the one she has always coveted.

"It's disappointing," Capriati said. "But, you know, life goes on. What can you do?"

In the first set yesterday, not much. Capriati only won five points, hit no winners and was blanked in 17 minutes.

But in the second set she steadied her game and, if the match wasn't filled with great shot-making or strategy, it did become a battle of fighting spirit.

"At the end of the game, I was so tired there was no place for nerves," Dementieva said.

Davenport's voice was still quivering an hour after her loss. "I'm fine to lose," she said. "I'm just disappointed that I didn't get the opportunity to either win or lose at 100 percent. I've been, for me, very lucky that the last three months I haven't really had to worry about this kind of stuff."

After racing through a 21-minute first set by controlling points with her well-placed serve, Davenport began pulling up, grimacing and tugging at her thigh, instead of chasing every Kuznetsova ball.

Davenport called for the trainer after the second set and left the court to have her left thigh more heavily taped.

"I was pretty bummed between sets," she said. "It was a little bit strained in warmups and made worse by the match."

Davenport grabbed a 3-0 lead to start the third set, but her hobbling only increased.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Open today

Men's semifinals

Lleyton Hewitt (4) vs. Joachim Johansson (28)

Roger Federer (1) vs. Tim Henman (5) TV: Chs. 13, 9, noon

Women's final

Svetlana Kuznetsova (9) vs. Elena Dementieva (6)

TV: Chs. 13, 9, 8 p.m.

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