Davenport has to work hard for final place

Russian teenager Dementieva mounts brave fightback to trouble American former champion

Spectators at the United States Open yesterday were treated to the heartening sight of the 18-year-old Russian Elena Dementieva raise herself from a seemingly despairing position to test Lindsay Davenport, the former women's singles champion and second seed, in her first Grand Slam semi-final.

Spectators at the United States Open yesterday were treated to the heartening sight of the 18-year-old Russian Elena Dementieva raise herself from a seemingly despairing position to test Lindsay Davenport, the former women's singles champion and second seed, in her first Grand Slam semi-final.

The American will face third seed Venus Williams, who reached the final of the US Open with a three-set win over number one seed Martina Hingis. The Wimbledon champion beat Switzerland's Hingis 4-6 6-3 7-5.

Davenport, and everyone watching, believed that the tall, powerful Californian was only a few potent shots from reaching the final when she led 6-2, 5-2 and 40-0. Dementieva, who had looked over-awed up to this point, and had double-faulted to add to her troubles when not being overwhelmed by her opponent, suddenly came to life. She saved four match points and rattled Davenport so badly that she double-faulted when Dementieva created her first break point.

The Russian went on to lead, 6-5, and when Davenport forced a tiebreak she matched her point for point until 5-6, when she was unable to control a forehand which landed wide. Davenport won the shoot-out, 7-5, and the match 6-2 , 7-6 after an hour and 21 minutes.

In today's final, Davenport will play either Martina Hingis, the world No 1, or Venus Williams, the Wimbledon champion.

Prior to tomorrow's men's singles final, the old crooner Tony Bennett will open the show with America The Beautiful here. He will not be the only ageing American on the court if Pete Sampras and Todd Martin have anything to do with it. But the championships may be remembered for a major breakthrough by a new generation, headed by Lleyton Hewitt, 19, and Marat Safin, 20.

Today's semi-finals promise a fine balance of youth and experience: a potentially fascinating duel between Hewitt, the Australian action man, and the 29-year-old Sampras, winner of a record 13 Grand Slam titles; and a test of Safin's temperament as the powerful Russian attempts to break the 30-year-old Martin's resilience.

Martin, the runner-up to Andre Agassi last year after recovering from two sets to love down against Greg Rusedski in the fourth round, has had another amazing tournament. He had to save a match point against Spain's Carlos Moya after hauling himself back from 0-2 in the fourth round this time.

In the quarter-finals on Thursday, Martin defeated Sweden's Thomas Johansson 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 after two hours and 32 minutes, which was equivalent to a night off for the Michigan giant.

Although the match contained its share of errors (28 by Martin, 24 by Johansson), these were erased by a bonanza of winning shots. Johansson's 49 (including 23 aces) would have discouraged a lesser opponent, but Martin's 40 winners (18 double-faults) were born of an irresistible determination to keep his show on the road.

"I thought I played a good game in the fourth set to break him," Johansson said, "but, when I had 4-3, he started to play a lot better. He put pressure on me on almost every point."

Martin, an unseeded hero, is 6ft 6in and 205lb. Safin is 6ft 4in and 180lb, so there is no question that their collision represents the heavyweight contest of the fortnight: big serves, powerful points. "Against Marat, there's nothing but to expect that," Martin said. "It's a little bit more like grass-court tennis. You understand there's going to be some love games on the other side of the net, but you also understand that if you hang in there, you might be able to create some opportunities for yourself."

It will be interesting to see if there is any sparring, given that the pair have never played each other before. "Playing Todd is going to give me a lot of headaches," the sixth-seeded Safin said. "He has a big serve, gives no rhythm at all, plays very fast and has a very good volley. He's a very talented guy, a big fighter. He can play till midnight. I can't do that."

Sampras breaks records, Safin breaks rackets - 48 last year, 35 so far this season. "You know how much I paid already this year [in fines]? Close to $10,000 [£7,100]. For $10,000, you know what I can do?"

There are times when breaking a racket does nothing to relieve Safin's frustration, when his suspect temperament overwhelms his talent. "Sometimes," he said, "I'm trying to push myself because I can play one set, and the next set I don't know what I'm doing. I need to push myself, because otherwise I'm completely blocked on the court.

"I'm pushing myself to move, to get angry, to get into the game. I get angry in five-set matches. I'm playing, and I'm stopping. I'm playing, and I don't know what I'm doing."

Hewitt, the ninth seed, knows that his two-sets win against Sampras on the grass at Queen's the week before Wimbledon is best set aside from his thoughts in preparing for today's contest over the Grand Slam distance. Sensibly, he takes encouragement from his overall progress this year. "As soon as I got in the top 10, I think I really started to believe that I can match it with a lot of these top players," he said. "This is just another step in my career. So far so good in this tournament."

Yesterday brought Hewitt the bonus of his first Grand Slam men's doubles title, in his first final. He and Max Mirnyi of Belarus became the first unseeded winners in the Open era, defeating South Africa's Ellis Ferreira and the American, Rick Leach 6-4, 5-7, 7-6.

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