Davenport enters the comfort zone

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The Independent Online

What does a girl have to do to become world No 1? Being the holder of two Grand Slam championships is, in Lindsay Davenport's case, clearly not enough. But, says the six-foot smiter from the California community of Manhattan Beach, her turn is about to come.

You tend to hope so, since Davenport has scarcely put a foot, or a shot, wrong this year. Or, indeed, since winning Wimbledon last summer. Even victory over the throne's resident occupant, Martina Hingis, in the final of the Indian Wells tournament would not be enough to propel the 23-year-old Davenport to the summit.

Yet this is a woman who has reached six consecutive finals, lost only one match since the millennium and whose domination of her sport is near-total.

"My play since last November has been No 1," she agreed. "But unfortunately the ranking is calculated over 12 months and last spring I didn't perform that well. If I play well in the coming months I'll regain it. That's my belief. I'm sure I'm closing the gap but I don't worry about it too much. Anyway, it's kind of fun being the underdog, and I don't care what the computer says. I'm playing well and I'm confident."

Davenport has already enjoyed a couple of short spells (of four months and then one month) at the top, sandwiched into the Hingis hegemony that will be stretched to a total of 135 weeks when the new rankings are announced tomorrow.

This is the second time in her career Davenport has advanced on the opposition with the inevitability of a roadbuilding machine. The first was in the summer of 1998. Three consecutive tournament wins on the North American segment of the circuit were followed by her first Grand Slam title at the US Open. That was enough to drop the No 1 slot at her feet.

But Lindsay considers she is playing better now than then. "It took me a lot of matches to cut down on errors, learning the right times not to make them, how not to give away free points. Now I'm very comfortable; don't make many mistakes, serving well. They are always going to be good stats to have.

"When you're real confident you seem to play the more important shots better because you obviously believe you can do it. And a lot of that momentum carries on from match to match. But you never know when it can end, when a bad day hits, like it did with Andre Agassi here.

"Right now I have pretty good confidence that I can beat everybody. Going into every tournament I think I'm a favourite to win because of my confidence and consistency. If those things are going well, I'm tough to beat."

And sometimes, it seems, tough to recognise. At a media conference the other day one questioner addressed her as Mary, which is enough to bring anyone called Lindsay up sharp. However, as with most things, Davenport laughed it off, possibly wondering ifsomeone might call Martina "Monica" one day soon.

Speaking of which, Lindsay relishes the rivalry with Hingis and simply loves the way it has panned out recently (at present 10-7 to Davenport).

Their last four meetings, including the Australian Open final, have all been straightforward and straight sets in her favour. It has now been 15 months since she lost to Hingis.

"Our rivalry is great," she said. "It's a friendly rivalry, too, because we get on very well. There was a stretch in the middle where she beat me a number of times in a row and now it's turned again. Believe me, she's going to beat me again before my career is over. She's that good. She's also smart.

"She obviously knows how to combat power despite her lack of height because she has beaten the Williams sisters, Mary Pierce and me. But I plan to keep on attacking her and keep her on the run."

Unlike hard hitting, running has never been one of Davenport's special skills. In the days of being overweight and unfit she was lumbered with the cruel nickname Dump Truck. Lindsay's achievements have now consigned that sort of stuff to oblivion but she does still yearn for the sort of speed around the court which is shown by such as Amanda Coetzer and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

While conceding "it's never going to be a strong point of mine", she insists, "I don't think it's a liability any more."

Most people would agree with that comment. Probably Mary included.

Results from the Tennis Master Series-Indian Wells tournament, presented by Newsweek:

Women Singles Semi-final

Martina Hingis (1), Switzerland, def. Mary Pierce (5), France, 6-4, 6-2.

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Doubles Semi-final

Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu (3), United States, def. Martina Hingis, Swtizerland and Mary Pierce, France (2), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-1.

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