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Davenport's win may be breakthrough

By Don Norcross
August 10, 1998

CARLSBAD -- When Mary Pierce's backhand fell helplessly into the net, Lindsay Davenport grabbed the other ball she was toting and pounded it high into the La Costa Resort and Spa stands.

Then she punctuated her 6-3, 6-1 victory in the Toshiba Tennis Classic final yesterday against a hobbled Pierce by slamming the net cord with her racket.

Chalk up another victory for the reluctant star.

When the tournament began a week ago, the focus was on two camps. There were the young guns, sassy Martina Hingis and stubborn Venus Williams. And there was Steffi Graf, the venerable superstar trying to prove the tank is not on empty.

But come yesterday afternoon the woman collecting the $79,000 winner's check and 65-inch big-screen TV was Davenport. Let teen-agers Hingis, Williams and Anna Kournikova fight over the magazine covers. To the delight of the sellout crowd of 6,200, Davenport, ranked No. 2 in the world, was content to celebrate her latest title by running across the court and clutching her young niece.

"I don't think she's seen me win. Maybe? I don't know," said Davenport of little Kennedy Fox.

Kennedy turns 1 tomorrow.

Said Davenport: "I wanted to sing her happy birthday."

While Hingis is entrenched at No. 1, Davenport is No. 2 and climbing. She won last week at Stanford. She won again yesterday. With tennis' hard-court season off and running, Davenport ranks as the early-line U.S. Open favorite.

Which brings up the subject of majors. At 22, the Southern California native has never won one. She's never appeared in a Grand Slam final. She has reached the semis in three of the last four Slams and confesses she may have been "overwhelmed" in the past.

To be validated as an all-time great, Davenport knows she must begin winning some majors.

"I think the mindset of the public and the media is that if you don't win a Grand Slam, you're not a great player," Davenport said. "I don't agree with that. I think Grand Slams are a true test, a very difficult test. But if it doesn't happen, I'm going to look back at myself as a great player."

"I think she'll win a Grand Slam," said Monica Seles, a winner of nine majors and Davenport's semifinal victim on Saturday. "Definitely."

Jana Novotna was 30 before she won her first major, this year at Wimbledon, seven years after her first appearance in a Slam final.

Having not made an Australian, French, Wimbledon or U.S. Open final appearance, Davenport didn't want to compare herself to Novotna.

"It could happen in a month. It could happen in five years," Davenport said. "I don't really know. I don't really care. I'm just going to keep giving myself the opportunity to have it happen."

As for yesterday's final, it was anticlimactic. Pierce spoiled what would have been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup by stunning Hingis on Saturday night.

Davenport vs. Pierce promised to be a blasting baseline battle, except that Pierce strained her upper right thigh early yesterday morning in practice and her mobility clearly was limited.

She was treated by medical personnel twice, once during an 18-minute rain delay.

Asked what the injury prevented her from doing, Pierce said, "Everything. The serve. Just moving."

Pierce said she never considered quitting.

"It's the finals," she said. "You just have one match to play."

Davenport showed no mercy. She was never broken. She lost only six points on her serve. She pounded 28 winners to Pierce's eight. In a word, she dominated her injured rival.

"It's a little bittersweet to win a title like that," Davenport said. "There's nothing I can do about it."

Davenport took over the No. 2 ranking on Feb. 2. At the time she trailed Hingis by 1,901 points on the WTA computer. She woke up last Monday after her win at Stanford, looked in the paper, realized she had cut the gap to fewer than 600 and said, "I was shocked." The deficit now is 529 points.

It would take a virtual collapse by Hingis between now and through the U.S. Open for Davenport to overtake Hingis. But down the road, Davenport admits, "That's pretty attainable."

And from Davenport, that's about as close as you'll get to a boast. She'll take the wins. Just keep the spotlight on those brash teen-agers.

"They can fight and have it," Davenport said.

There's one problem: At 6-foot-2-1/2, ranked second in the world and on a roll, Davenport is running out of places to hide.


Davenport made it a clean sweep yesterday, teaming with Natasha Zvereva to defeat Nathalie Tauziat and Alexandra Fusai in the doubles final. Davenport and Zvereva split $23,500, pushing Davenport's haul to $90,875 for one week's work.

Davenport has earned $4,771,231 in her career, 14th all-time.

The Toshiba's strong field, featuring seven of the world's top 10 players, was a box-office hit. The tournament attracted 81,989 fans, a 16 percent increase over last year's previous record.