Tennis: Hingis blown aside

US Open: Davenport's irresistible power play recaptures America's glory days
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The Independent Online
MARTINA HINGIS found a word for the girl who stole her title away from her at the US Open last night. Lindsay Davenport, she said, had been "awesome" for the whole fortnight. It was a fair assessment, as the Californian 22-year-old completed a perfect tournament in which she did not drop a single set by sweeping aside the champion 6-3 7-5 in an hour and 21 minutes with a torrent of crunching winners.

The 6ft 2in Davenport became the first American-born woman to win her home championship since Chris Evert 16 years ago. It was such a moving moment that not only did the winner weep but in handing her the trophy the US Tennis Association president, Harry Marmion, burst into tears too.

It was the first Grand Slam title for Davenport and one which she had thoroughly merited. All through the North American segment of the tennis season she has been in commanding form, winning three titles in her home state before coming to New York and capturing the one that mattered most. "It has been an incredible summer and I am just glad to end it this way," she said as she clutched the champion's cheque for pounds 450,000.

All that is left for Hingis after a Grand Slam year in which she lost two of the three titles she won in 1997 is her No 1 ranking. This was ensured when she got to the final, but Davenport is the hottest woman on the tour right now.

Only once did she wobble. That was after a punishing rally in the seventh game of the second set left her labouring back and forth along the baseline like a pack elephant. The girl who has lost the best part of two stone this year was drained for a couple of games but, fatally, Hingis proceeded to play her worst tennis of the match just when she could have seized the momentum. The chance slipped away, Davenport started unleashing bombs again and the Swiss girl, who will not be 18 until the end of this month, said farewell to the US title as well as her Wimbledon crown.

So, for the first time since 1990, the four Grand Slams have ended up in different hands. Hingis won the Australian Open in January, when all was still well with her world, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario took the French Open by running further than anybody else, Jana Novotna realised her life's ambition at Wimbledon and now Davenport has a major championship to sit alongside the gold medal she won at the Atlanta Olympics.

Davenport, who outslugged Venus Williams in Friday's semi-finals, announced her battle plan immediately after that victory. She would, she said, "be aggressive and go for my shots". So Hingis was suitably forewarned, but being forearmed was another matter. Nobody in the women's game smites a tennis ball harder than Lindsay Davenport and when aggression is harnessed to accuracy, as it was yesterday, she is nigh on unstoppable.

The skills which took Hingis to three Grand Slams and nine other titles last year were uncanny anticipation and wonderful ball placement. But when you are under ceaseless assault from an opponent striking the ball within inches of the baseline, the skill of survival becomes paramount. Against someone like Davenport, Hingis lacked the height and power to compete. As if her opponent did not present enough problems, Hingis also suffered some odd decisions from the American umpire, Dessie Samuels.

The first of these came as early as the third game of the opening set when a Davenport shot called out was overruled and, as a result, Hingis dropped serve. Clearly nettled, the Swiss girl made an all-out effort to break back immediately and nearly pulled it off, missing one break point in the next game, which went to deuce five times before Davenport clung on.

The next brouhaha erupted in the seventh game when, as she charged the net, Davenport's cap fell off. She netted her shot but umpire Samuels decreed the point be replayed. Rather than a rule of tennis, this was what is known as "a judgement call" and it proved poor judgement. Hingis, who had won the point, lost it on the replay, dropped serve again and Davenport went on to take the opening set in 37 minutes.

As Hingis said later: "If her hat falls off it's not my fault." And she hammered home her dissatisfaction by complaining that, as if it was not tough enough to play an American in the final of the US Open, she had to contend with an American umpire, too. "That is a pretty strange thing, and it should not happen again," she pointed out, reasonably enough.

Having won the set by outserving and out-returning Hingis, Davenport made a brisk drive for the finish line in the second set, murdering the weak Hingis second serve to break for a 4-2 lead. Hingis got that break back at once and it was in that game that Davenport was left flat by a particularly punishing rally. For a while her length, line and power suffered but luckily for her this coincided with an untypical loose spell by Hingis. As she said afterwards: "If I had won that second set I would have had a good chance in the third."

Dropping serve again to go 4-5 down cramped those ambitions and, though she hit back by capturing a labouring Davenport's serve, she could not repel the American.

Davenport got to match point with a precise backhand which clipped the line and then, astonishingly at such a key moment, Hingis attempted a drop shot. Davenport summoned her last reserves of energy, got to the net, tucked the championship-winning shot away and wept with joy.

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