Originally created 09/12/98

Davenport, Hingis reach U.S. Open final

NEW YORK -- Lindsay Davenport never was a child tennis star, a can't-miss kid like Venus Williams or Martina Hingis. Now, after beating Williams in the semifinals, she takes on Hingis with a chance for a U.S. Open championship.

The second-seeded Davenport used power and poise to reach her first Grand Slam final. Top-seeded Hingis joined her there by taking advantage of an opponent's third-set collapse.

Saturday's final between the world's top two players will be a chance for Davenport, who has a 5-6 career record against Hingis, to make up for all the times she was overlooked as a youngster.

"No one ever said anything about me," Davenport said. "I was never a prodigy, I was never going to be any good."

Davenport clapped her left hand on her racket to celebrate her 6-4, 6-4 win over an error-ridden Williams in an all-American semifinal Friday. Davenport was 0-3 in previous Grand Slam semis, including a loss to Hingis at the U.S. Open a year ago.

"It was relief, it was happiness, it was joy obviously getting to my first final. Really just almost like you can't believe it," she said. "No one ever said when I was growing up I was ever going to be any good or get to a Grand Slam final. I think I've proven a lot of people wrong."

Davenport needed just 72 minutes to win over Williams, who lost beads from her hair on the court and lost her touch against an opponent who simply was too steady. Williams had twice as many errors as winners, 26-13.

Williams, a losing finalist to Hingis at the U.S. Open last year, had seven dresses designed for her run through the tournament -- one for each round, including the final.

"I think I'm deeply saddened that I didn't have the opportunity to wear my seventh dress," she said of the red, white and blue outfit. "I'm actually going to put that one in a coffin and bury it."

Williams had lost the first set of her quarterfinal match against Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario on Wednesday night, then turned up the power as she rallied to victory. But that didn't work against the equally powerful Davenport.

Hingis won 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 over Jana Novotna, who thought a Wimbledon title finally would drive away her demons but encountered them again as she blew a big third-set lead.

Novotna was leading 4-1 in the final set, just six points from winning the match and dethroning Hingis as No. 1 in the world, when her game collapsed. She missed several easy shots and won just four of the final 22 points.

After her 50th unforced error settled into the net on match point, Novotna stood with hands on hips at the baseline in disbelief. She had 20 unforced errors in the final set -- one more than Hingis made in the entire match.

"I made mistakes for different reasons," said Novotna, who has talked repeatedly of how the Wimbledon victory boosted her confidence. "I can't explain it. You never know why it happens."

Hingis' 76-week reign as No. 1 had been in danger. If she had lost, either Novotna or Davenport would have replaced her as No. 1 by winning the U.S. Open.

"I was fighting for my No. 1 spot. She didn't miss anything in the first set," Hingis said. "Because we're doubles partners, I know her weaknesses and she knows mine. I lost some stupid games."

Hingis had lost in the semifinals of the previous two Grand Slam tournaments, losing to Monica Seles at the French Open and to Novotna at Wimbledon. She thought of those losses during the changeover before her third-set rally began.

"I was down 4-1 and sitting in the chair, saying, `No way I lose again in the semis. At least I've got to make the final,"' Hingis said.

Hingis didn't play like the world's top player in the first set, spraying balls long and wide while losing four straight service games. Frustrated by her poor play, Hingis slammed her racket into the net after losing one point and pounded the ball into the court after another.

But Hingis dominated in the second set, winning 12 points in a row midway through the set as she began coming to the net more and dictating play.

Hingis' wildness returned in the third set, and Novotna took advantage with breaks in the first and fifth games to go up 4-1. The third-seeded Novotna made several acrobatic shoetop volleys and delicate drop shots as she took the lead.

The score was 30-30 in the next game, putting Novotna just six points from victory, when the collapse began. Included in Novotna's misses was an easy forehand volley she hit about 10 feet long.

"In the third set, I was up 4-1. From that moment on, I missed too many approaches, too many volleys," Novotna said. "You have to continue playing well. I was missing too many balls."

Novotna began the summer with a reputation as a choker, a top player burdened by past failures.

Her biggest collapse was in the 1993 Wimbledon final, when she led Steffi Graf 4-1 in the third set and blew an easy volley that would have given her a 5-1 lead. After Novotna lost, she cried on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder.

At the 1995 French Open, Novotna lost to Chanda Rubin after having a match point and a 5-0 lead in the third set.

That reputation seemed to be receding into history after her Wimbledon championship. But now the semifinals of the 1998 U.S. Open will be added to her list of failures.

"I was down two service breaks, but I knew I would be playing with the wind," Hingis said, "and I saw Jana wasn't in the best shape and I was just trying to get the ball in the game."


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