Originally created 07/04/99

Davenport and Graf reach Wimbledon final

WIMBLEDON, England -- On the surface she once thought suitable only for grazing cows, Lindsay Davenport reclaimed the No. 1 ranking and reached her first Wimbledon final against seven-time champion Steffi Graf.

Davenport and Graf put the brakes on the rocket rise of two of the most talented teens to come along in recent years, 18-year-old Alexandra Stevenson and 17-year-old Mirjana Lucic.

Stevenson's wondrous Wimbledon debut ended Saturday with a 6-1, 6-1 drubbing by Davenport, whose deep, flat groundstrokes pinned her behind the baseline and kept her from charging the net as she had against everyone else.

Lucic, at No. 134 the lowest-ranked woman to reach a Grand Slam semifinal, gave Graf a scare but succumbed 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-3 after the 30-year-old German strung together five straight games from 4-4 in the second set.

While Davenport will be seeking her second Grand Slam title, Graf will be going for her 23rd a month after capturing her sixth French Open.

"I'm more than amazed and surprised," Graf said of her surge back toward the top of tennis after missing most of 1997 and 1998 with injuries.

Davenport won the first 11 points in her 48-minute romp over Stevenson, then let loose a scream of delight when she closed out the last game at love with four straight service winners.

"That," she said of the scream, "was winning 1 and 1 in the semifinals, getting to my first Wimbledon final, and doing it on a surface I used to hate in '93 and '94."

The 23-year-old Davenport had never gone beyond the Wimbledon quarterfinals in six appearances, losing twice in the second round, once in the third and once in the fourth. She grew up on hardcourts in California, and won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta and the U.S. Open last year on that surface.

But Davenport overcame her aversion for the slippery nature of grass, and came to Wimbledon this year with a different attitude.

"To get to the Wimbledon final, it just means so much to me," she said. "I came into this tournament being relatively overlooked, but knowing myself that I was playing well. I knew that I can beat every player when I'm playing well.

"I actually didn't think about the No. 1 ranking until I got back to the locker room, and I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I got it."'

Davenport finished 1998 as No. 1 and held that spot for 17 weeks before Martina Hingis took it back on Feb. 8. With Hingis losing in the first round at Wimbledon, Davenport will be No. 1 again in the new rankings Monday.

Stevenson's mother, Samantha, blamed the loss in part on her daughter having a sore shoulder.

"She just didn't have the serve, she didn't have her gun," Samantha Stevenson said. "Her shoulder was sore after playing so many matches, but we didn't want to say anything. We wanted to keep it quiet."

But Alexandra Stevenson rejected that excuse, saying her shoulder felt "OK." Her coach, Craig Kardon, also said there was nothing wrong with her shoulder.

"My serve wasn't my serve today," she said. "It's not going to happen again. I'm going out to practice hitting a lot more serves. It's just that it was a tough match. Lindsay played very well and showed she's No. 1. I didn't feel nervous out there. I rushed a lot. I was rushing everything."

Davenport had some sharp words for Stevenson's mother, who has stirred controversy with her allegations of racism and lesbianism on the women's tour.

"I'm not sure if she's doing it for attention or just saying these things, because they sound crazy, some of them," Davenport said. "All this stuff that she's calling all of us ... I don't think the players really appreciate it.

"Her daughter is a great girl, she's smart and she can play tennis. She should just leave her alone and not bring her into all these controversies."

Samantha Stevenson also claimed Davenport was scared before the match, a suggestion that made Davenport laugh.

"No, I wasn't scared," she said. "Actually, I kind of wanted to play Stevenson more than (Jelena) Dokic. Dokic is really fast, gets a lot of balls back, keeps the ball really low. Stevenson can make a ton of errors and doesn't move particularly well. I knew if I hit a few good shots, maybe the point was won. And if I could return her serve, I felt pretty comfortable."

Stevenson, who graduated from high school last month, was considered little more than a promising talent two weeks ago.

Ranked No. 86, she won three qualifying matches to get into the main draw. Then she swept through five matches to make the semifinals on tennis' biggest stage.

Only one other player, John McEnroe in 1978, ever reached the Wimbledon semifinals as a qualifier.

Stevenson's remarkable run came despite numerous questions that her natural father might be basketball great Julius Erving.

The possibility was raised last week when the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., published a copy of her birth certificate. Though it listed her father as Julius Winfield Erving II, Erving's legal name, he initially denied being her father. On Friday, the Hall of Famer confirmed it.

Lucic's low ranking didn't reflect the strength and maturity of her game. She continuously put pressure on Graf's serve with return winners, and in the first set alone there were eight breaks of serve. In the tiebreak, Lucic overpowered Graf with a series of punishing groundstroke winners.

"She gives absolutely no rhythm," Graf said, describing Lucic's go-for-broke style. "She played some incredible shots, and she made easy mistakes. Obviously she likes pace and taking charge of the points, and she did that very well."

There was only one break in the second set, with Lucic losing serve in the final game. She blew an easy forehand volley on set point, slapping the ball wide.

From 4-4 in the second set, Graf won five straight games to go up 3-0 in the third set. Lucic had a chance to break back with Graf serving for the match at 5-3, 15-30. But she netted an easy backhand volley at the net, sailed a forehand way long and surrendered the match by netting a forehand return.

"Experience is always important," Graf said, "but the way she was going for her shots, she really took a lot of risk. It didn't seem like she was getting nervous at any stage, and that's very impressive to me."


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