Tennis: Serena's final flourish

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The Independent Online
SERENA WILLIAMS, aged 17, advanced to her first Grand Slam singles final at the United States Open last night, defeating her American compatriot Lindsay Davenport, the defending champion, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4.

Davenport, who overpowered Martina Hingis in last year's final, and denied Steffi Graf to win the Wimbledon title two months ago, was unable to suppress the younger of the teenage Williams sisters from California. Venus Williams reached the US Open final in 1997, losing to Hingis.

After a five-hour rain delay yesterday, the sun peeked over Flushing Meadows, and Serena went to work in her first Grand Slam singles semi- final, showing not a trace of nerves as she held to love in the opening game. Taking the ball early, and striking it cleanly and confidently, even when called upon to deliver second serves, Williams made the steadier start, creating all the openings in the first set.

Davenport salvaged two break points in the sixth game, Williams over- hitting a backhand on the first, Davenport driving a backhand to the right-hand corner of the court to erase the second. Davenport took the game with her second ace.

Williams attacked again when Davenport served in the eighth game, this time recovering from 0-40. Williams netted a backhand return on the first break point. She was then fortunate to see a high forehand volley scrape a sideline on the second. There was no luck involved in the third rescue, achieved with an unreturnable serve.

The crowd supported both players, although Davenport would not have thanked the person who shouted "Out!" after a Williams shot, moments before Davenport netted a forehand drive to give Williams a sixth break point in the 10th game. Another netted forehand, this time forced by her opponent, cost Davenport the set.

Davenport did not drop a set before the quarter-finals, when Mary Pierce held two match points against her. Her response to Williams was to raise her performance, unsettling her opponent by converting her first break point of the match, with a smash, in the opening game of the second set.

Suddenly, Williams was in retreat, winning only one game as Davenport took control of the set. Williams was not helped when the netcord intercepted her forehand drive on her only break point, in the fourth game. She was broken to love in the concluding game.

There was edgy play from both players in the final set, the unforced errors mounting (Williams finished with 44, Davenport 39). Williams made what proved to be the decisive break for 4-3, hitting a superb forehand cross-court volley for advantage, and then shanking a forehand return, which Davenport belted long.

Davenport still must be wondering how she failed to retrieve the break in the next game, which went to eight deuces. Davenport had five break points after Williams double faulted on her first game point. Williams double-faulted twice more to present Davenport with a fourth break point, but saved it with a high forehand volley.

The champion's last chance came after Williams had missed with a forehand. This time, Williams produced a fine backhand and then won the game with a couple of solid forehands.

Davenport saved the first match point, when serving at 4-5, with a forehand volley. Williams completed her victory in style, hitting her 12th ace for 40-15, and delivering a second serve that was too good for Davenport's attempted forehand return on the second match point.

"This is great," Williams said. "I still have one match to go, and I'm very excited. I'm happy I haven't lost on hard courts yet this summer."

Martin matures, page 26