TENNIS: Mauresmo mesmerises Davenport

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The Independent Online
THE UNSEEDED Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo staged a stunning Australian Open fightback yesterday to overcome the world No 1 and top seed, Lindsay Davenport, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5. In her first Grand Slam final tomorrow the big- hitting Mauresmo will meet the defending champion, Martina Hingis, who disposed of Monica Seles 6-2, 6-4 to end an unbeaten run of 33 matches Down Under for the four times Australian Open champion.

"I'm very happy, I didn't expect it at the beginning of the tournament," a delighted Mauresmo said.

"I think I'll just play the final first and think about it later," the 19-year-old added when asked if her giant-killing performance had sunk in yet.

The equally unsung Nicolas Lapentti was unable to emulate Mauresmo in the star-starved men's singles, going down to the Swede Thomas Enqvist in straight sets on a hot Melbourne Park Centre Court.

Enqvist ended the Ecuadorean's dream run with a 6-3, 7-5, 6-1 win, also reaching his first Grand Slam final. The in-form Swede will play the winner of today's semi-final between the 10th seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia - the only seed left in the men's singles - and Tommy Haas, the 20-year- old German.

But none could match Mauresmo's dramatic path to the final. The strongly built teenager fought off two match points in an opening round match with the American Corina Morariu last week. The world No 29 then beat the eighth seed, Patty Schnyder, of Switzerland, in the second round and toppled the Belgian 11th seed, Dominique Van Roost, in the quarter-finals.

Mauresmo had never before made it past the third round of a Grand Slam, but the 1996 world junior champion had beaten Davenport when they first met at the German Open last May.

Davenport began confidently before Mauresmo battered the American with service winners and swarmed over her with brutal groundstrokes.

"A couple of times I thought I was playing a guy, she was hitting the ball so hard," Davenport said. The pair slugged it out through the second set until Mauresmo gained a crucial advantage when she broke Davenport's serve to love in the 12th game. Five service breaks were traded in an enthralling third set before the French teenager broke again for the match, sinking to her knees in joy after drilling a backhand passing shot down the line.

Davenport, the US Open champion, had not lost a set before the semi-finals and looked on course for her first Australian Open final when she held three break points in the third game of the final set. But Mauresmo saved those and rallied as her powerful serve began to find its mark. Surprisingly, it was Davenport who slowly wilted.

"I couldn't touch her serve at the end," Davenport said. "Every time I got my foot through the door and I thought I was going to get to the end, the door was shut on my foot."

Hingis, the world No 2, was also too strong for Seles, but relied more on deft placement and timing than raw power. The Swiss teenager slammed a forehand winner past Seles on her second match point after 59 relatively trouble-free minutes.

The point also ended Seles's remarkable winning streak in Melbourne at 33 matches. Seles won the title in her only four previous Open appearances from 1991 to 1993 and again in 1996.

Hingis shut Seles out of the match, breaking the Yugoslav-born American early in the first set and then using her superior court coverage to gain another important break in the seventh game of the second set.

She said she was glad not to play Davenport in the final and felt Mauresmo might be overawed by the occasion. "Mentally it's easier to be the favourite," Hingis, at 18 a year younger than her opponent, said. "This is her first time in the final. It will be hard for her."

Enqvist dominated his match against a tired Lapentti with a powerful service game and a varied array of groundstrokes. Enqvist, the world No 21, won Open warm-up events in Adelaide and Melbourne and was jubilant after his 102-minute demolition of unseeded five-set specialist Lapentti.

"I almost feel I want to go out and play it now," Enqvist said of the final. "It's very exciting."

The unheralded Lapentti upset the seventh-seeded Karol Kucera in a five- set thriller in the quarter-finals, but paid for an exhausting run through the draw, which included 24 sets in his first five matches.

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