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July 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, July 21, 2004

WOMEN'S PRO TENNIS

Davenport Davenport (July 21, 2004)not quite set for retirement

Veteran shows she has plenty of fight with win over Williams in Bank of the West

by Robyn Israel

W hat began as possibly a farewell tour for Lindsay Davenport has ended in quite a different way. Forget that talk of retirement, which Davenport hinted at before the 34th annual Bank of the West Classic got under way last week.

Retirement? There's still plenty of life left in Davenport's 28-year-old legs, as she proved in Sunday's championship match during a nearly three-hour slugfest on a hot summer day.

It was a day during fan tennis fans got their money's worth as the No. 2-seeded Davenport prevailed over top-seeded Venus Williams, 7-6 (7-4), 5-7, 7-6 (7-4), before a capacity crowd at Stanford's Taube Tennis Center.

"There's so little that separates a match of that score line," Davenport said. "Every set was close -- a few points here or there, and it could have gone her way. I've been on the flip side, so I know what it feels like."

The matchup between the tournament's top two seeds seemed a sure thing, given the weak field at this year's Bank of the West Classic. With 2003 champion Kim Clijsters out with an injury, and little representation from the rising crop of Russian players, competition was seriously wanting at this year's tournament.

But 4,673 fans came out on Sunday to root for both Davenport and Williams - both local fan favorites.

Davenport, a two-time Bank of the West champion, may have forgotten what it feels like to beat Williams. The last time it happened was 2000.

"Having lost to her so many times, and then to beat her in this match felt really good," said Davenport, who earned first-place prize money of $93,000.

On Sunday, the two nemeses met for the 23rd time, with Williams boasting a 12-10 record going into the match. It was their first meeting since 2003, when they played in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon (Williams won 6-2, 2-6, 6-1).

This time, Davenport "tried to be mentally aggressive," and took advantage of the fact that Williams made twice the number of unforced errors (73 compared to her 35).

Williams, a four-time Grand Slam champion (Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in 2000 and 2001) and former No. 1-ranked player, has struggled this year. She has yet to win a tournament in 2004 and fell to Croatian Karolina Sprem in the second round of Wimbledon.

"I made a lot of errors today," said Williams, a two-time Bank of the West champion (2000 and 2002). "She was playing well -- she's always played well. I think she's right up there."

Asked whether the 93-degree heat had played a role in the match, Williams said no.

"These days, people give it their all, regardless of the heat," said Williams, currently the No. 13 player in the world. "I'm coming from Florida, so this is nothing."

Despite falling to 2004 Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, Davenport has so far enjoyed a successful run this year. She is ranked No. 5 in the world, and posted tournament wins at the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo and the Bausch & Lomb Championships on Amelia Island, Fla. this year.

Sunday's victory marked Davenport's third Bank of the West title. She won the event in 1998 and 1999, beating Williams both times.

Asked to recall the last time she and Williams had played a match of equal intensity, Davenport cited the 1998 Bank of the West final, in which she beat Williams 6-4, 5-7, 6-4.

"She's been a great rival of mine, a great player," Davenport said. "I think she'll have many of these (tournaments) left in her."

Whether the same can be said of Davenport is doubtful. Now 28 and newly married to Jonathan Leech, she has expressed growing discontent with the travel and time demands that tennis exerts on her. Her 11-year career has been impressive, with three Grand Slam victories (1998 U.S. Open, 1999 Wimbledon and 2000 Australian Open) and $17, 402,894 in career earnings.

But don't count Davenport out just yet.

"If this (win) does anything, it motivates me to keep going," Davenport said. "I'll think about it (retiring) at the end of the year, when the year is done. For now, I want to get a really good run going for the U.S. Open."

The U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam tournament of 2004, will begin Aug. 30 in Flushing Meadows, N.Y.

Splitting a $30,000 paycheck on Sunday was the winning doubles team of Greece's Eleni Daniilidou and Australia's Nicole Pratt, who defeated the Czech Republic's Iveta Benesova and Luxembourg's Claudine Schaul 6-2, 6-4. Daniilidou is Greece's top female tennis player, and will have the honor of carrying her country's flag at the Olympic Games, which begin Aug. 13 in Athens.


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