Tennis: Wimbledon '99 - Davenport rocket for Stevenson's mother

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The Independent Online
SOMETIMES OVER the past two weeks, it has been difficult to tell who has been playing the tennis, Alexandra Stevenson or her mother, Samantha. Yesterday, the only real eloquence came from Lindsay Davenport, who not only reached her first Wimbledon final with a facile and explosive straight- sets victory but reclaimed the No 1 spot from Martina Hingis in the process. Hingis? Remember her?

Davenport's silent progress through the draw has been in strong contrast to the garrulous gallop of the Stevensons. She reacted scornfully to the idea, voiced by Mrs Stevenson, that fear was a factor in playing the young qualifier. A scoreline of 6-1 6-1 hardly suggested that Davenport's knees were knocking. Nor had Samantha Stevenson's claims of institutionalised racism in general, and at junior Wimbledon in particular, on the women's tour endeared her to the regulars.

"I just don't think we appreciate her commenting on our way of life," Davenport said. "She's calling all of us a name. Her daughter is 18, she'll be fine, she's a great girl, she's smart and she can play tennis and just leave her alone. Don't bring her into all these controversies."

Davenport's game plan was commendably simple: keep the ball in court and let her opponent self-destruct. It was not a great spectacle, but for the crowd who had come to see Tim Henman it was thankfully swift. After nine matches, from first-round qualifying at the Bank of England courts in Roehampton to the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Stevenson's rocket hit the buffers in a mere 46 minutes. Having shed her amateur status halfway through the journey, she at least took home pounds 96,690 and a wealth of experience. Apparently, a Volvo Convertible and a laundry for her mother (the dirty linen can then be washed in private) are the first items on the shopping list. A little look at serve and forehand, both vigorous but wayward, might be on the coach's agenda.

As if her first grand slam semi-final, in only her second grand slam, was not enough baggage to take on to Centre Court yesterday, Stevenson had to cope with more personal revelations. Overnight, Julius Erving, "Dr J" to all fans of basketball, had confirmed the widely held rumour that he was Stevenson's father. Stevenson would not comment on the statement. No wonder that Stevenson's mind was in a swirl. Davenport won the first 11 points of the match. When Stevenson broke the sequence after five minutes, the crowd's applause sounded ironic, but reflected their relief. The English hate embarrassment and Stevenson's array of double-faults and booming forehands was taking the match into the realms of farce. Finally, she pulled herself together, reeled off the following five points and began to settle down.

A drop shot-lob combination which left Davenport stranded in the sixth game of the first set gave a clue to the future and the immediate past. Stevenson has a smart head on her shoulders. Unfortunately, consistency is not her strong point. The backhand, pure and one-handed, is too often followed by an untutored forehand into the backstop. Two further double- faults gave Davenport the first set after a whirlwind 21 minutes and once the unheralded American had broken for the third time in the match to take a 3-0 lead in the second, not even the frantic urgings of her mother from the players' box could halt the rout.

There was still time for one exquisite point, which included a lob, balloon balls, some thumping forehands from both players and was ended by a backhand down the line. It was just a temporary blip. Davenport marched on to her appointed rendezvous with Steffi Graf on Centre Court today where she might feel as out of place as her opponent did yesterday.

Davenport's heavy hitting will be a danger to Graf's emotional quest for an eighth Wimbledon title. Having never strayed beyond the quarter- finals at Wimbledon, the US Open champion still needs the odd introduction in these parts. "Lindsay," asked one questioner "can we talk about you for a second?" There is some justice in the fact that the more matronly Davenport should infiltrate a women's tournament dominated by fresh young faces.

Davenport is a solid pro, who has shed her self-consciousness, and learned to play to her strengths. A scream of delight greeted her victory, reflection, she said, of years of toil on the grass. Having discovered the secret, she then partnered Corina Morariu to the final of the women's doubles after defeating Liezel Horn and Katarina Srebotnik 7-6 6-3. Talk about London buses. "That [the scream] was getting to my first Wimbledon final and doing it on a surface I used to hate." Graf should have the last word today.