V. Williams, Davenport meet again

Today's American finalists have been frequent foes


July 02, 2005|By Lisa Dillman | Lisa Dillman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WIMBLEDON, England -- They are career-turnaround specialists, often getting ahead at the expense of the other for the past eight-plus years, meeting 26 times around the world.

Venus Williams needed to beat Lindsay Davenport in the final to win her first and second major championships, at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 2000. Williams represented a significant obstacle for Davenport in the semifinals of the U.S. Open in 1998, en route to Davenport's first major title.

More recently, Davenport pulled herself from the brink of retirement last summer. One of the biggest building blocks was a July victory over Williams in the Stanford final, the first in seven matches against Williams, and Davenport would regain the No. 1 ranking in October.

Flash ahead to the latest renaissance. Williams is in the final of a Grand Slam event for the first time in two years, aiming for her first major victory since the 2001 U.S. Open. There was a palpable buzz on the rain-soaked grounds at the All England Club yesterday about Williams' dazzling performance in the semifinals Thursday against defending champion Maria Sharapova of Russia.

So who else but Davenport should stand in the way?

It's almost fitting that Davenport is the final obstacle in Williams' tennis rebirth in today's Wimbledon final, and, likewise, that Williams remains the last one standing between Davenport's first major title since the 2000 Australian Open.

"We've gone through so many transitions from around '97 up until now," Davenport said. "In the beginning, I was always winning, then she was always winning. The last few times, it's been me.

"But we both have kind of evolved quite at bit and still play these close, crazy matches. They're always pretty much in the final or semis. We've played a lot of tough matches over the years."

The top-seeded Davenport reached the final in unusual fashion, needing about three minutes and seven points yesterday to get there. Her semifinal against No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo of France was suspended Thursday because of rain, with Davenport leading 5-3 in the third set, and Mauresmo serving at 15-0.

They returned to Court 1 on a cloudy day, and it turned into a serving contest, albeit a brief one. Mauresmo hit three serves to hold at love. Davenport then got in all of her first serves to hold at love, winning, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-4, when Mauresmo netted a forehand volley on match point.

Davenport has a 14-12 edge over Williams in their career, but Williams has won all three of their meetings at Wimbledon. Of their 26 matches, 11 have been in finals, with Williams winning six of those matches. Davenport has won their past four matches.

One hint this rivalry would be interesting came in their first meeting, at Indian Wells, Calif., in 1997. Davenport won that quarterfinal match, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (1).

Since then, there have been major titles and numerous injuries for each. Both have been written off as lacking the ability to win another major.

But the criticism has been much tougher on Williams, who has not been in a major final since Wimbledon in 2003. On the other hand, Davenport reached the semifinals here and at the U.S. Open last year and at the Australian Open final in January.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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