Davenport too slow to escape the Venus trap

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The Independent Online

In the end it was a relatively quick kill. Caught in the Venus trap, Lindsay Davenport, in the death throes of her own career, wriggled a little - and even produced one of the finest sets at this year's Championships to achieve parity - but eventually perished under the force of her opponent's high-octane game and her own limitations.

Losing the final five games - and 15 of the last 16 points - was not something expected of a player seeded five and who won this tournament just four years ago. But she was playing a Williams. And one who has beaten her in their last six meetings - including three times at Wimbledon. Davenport was also playing with an injury that limited the mobility of one of the most notoriously immobile players on the circuit and looks set to end her career at the age of 27. It was some feat that the 6ft 2in American managed to move her feet at times. An operation on the troublesome toe is booked for late November. Until then she will make do with cortisone injections although even they will not dull the pain of capitulating so meekly after having forced this match into a third set.

Indeed, following this defeat, Davenport, having won 38 career titles, including three Grand Slams, and amassing prize-money of £12m, spoke of retirement at the end of the year. "The thoughts have been in my mind. Especially when I need surgery again. It just wears on you after a while," she said having, of course, been hampered by a knee injury for two years.

The 1999 winner added: "It definitely ran through my mind when I was out there, that that could be my last singles match." The US Masters at Indian Wells in November, may well be her farewell. "I'm gonna definitely try and finish the year." Pity she could not finish yesterday's match.

It was, however, at times, a contest of the highest quality. Both players succeeded with an astonishing series of deep passing shots down the line, off both sides, and hit their groundstrokes cleanly. However Williams' athleticism, her ability to move around the court, to vary the pace and force her personality on to the proceedings always gave her the edge. It made Davenport anxious and it showed.

There was an inevitability to the first set. Despite breaking back for 2-2, after losing more than an hour's play to the rain, Davenport double-faulted on her serve and then netted two forehands to fall behind. Her next service game went the same way and, tellingly, she was left stranded in mid-court as Williams wrapped up the set.

The tone then changed dramatically. In the circumstances, Davenport's best - indeed only - hope was to build on her serve and work aggressively for a break. It happened immediately. Flustered, Williams' play became loose and her first serve dropped to a success rate of just 42 per cent. Suddenly, the unforced errors were on her side of the net. Although Davenport tossed away the chance of a second break when 0-30, she managed to hold on to the pivotal game, after six deuces, for a 4-2 lead and then broke again. The depth and consistency of her shots helped her serve out for one-set all.

Having created the opportunity, it suddenly went flat. "The second set went so fast," Williams said. "I didn't want the third set to go that fast unless it was, of course, my way." It was, of course. In just 24 minutes. Davenport's lack of movement was laid bare at deuce, when 2-1 down. She was painfully slow to a backhand and then watched as Williams fizzed past a service return.

"It just changed there," Davenport said. "I had the momentum and just kind of gave it back to her." It was over. As if to drive the realisation home, Williams then found two aces from her rehabilitated serve and Davenport's shots became more ragged. Resistance drained from her and Williams prevailed 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. After having lost to her sister, Serena, in four Grand Slam finals and winning just one title in the past 12 months, Venus Williams is increasing in confidence. Despite the power, some fragility is there. Davenport was just too fragile herself to expose it fully. Williams' semi-final opponent, Kim Clijsters, may be better equipped.