Hingis beats Davenport to win in Zurich

World No 1 Martina Hingis conquered American Lindsay Davenport in a hard-fought final at the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich today, winning her first career singles title on home soil.

World No 1 Martina Hingis conquered American Lindsay Davenport in a hard-fought final at the Swisscom Challenge in Zurich today, winning her first career singles title on home soil.

Hingis, whose previous 32 WTA titles had all come outside of Switzerland, delighted the sold-out, foot-stomping home crowd, defeating Davenport 6-4, 4-6, 7-5 to hand the world No. 2 her first defeat in 21 matches in the tiny Alpine nation.

"I'm extremely happy to finally win here," said Hingis, after adding the Zurich trophy to last week's title in Filderstadt. "It's my third final in Zurich and I'd never won in Switzerland before, something that I must admit was lacking for me. It means twice as much to win here.

"I'm sorry I had to beat Lindsay and end her winning streak here but I really wanted to win."

The victory came as a relief to Hingis, who had won virtually all of the Grand Slam, Championship and Tier 1 titles on the WTA Tour, with the exception of Zurich, the French Open and Moscow, where she has never competed.

It was at the Zurich tournament that a 14-year-old Hingis made her professional debut six years ago. But the Swiss star had only reached the finals twice, losing both times in straight sets: 6-2, 6-2 to Czech Jana Novotna in 1996 and 6-3, 6-4 to Venus Williams last year.

Criticized for refusing to represent Switzerland at the recent Olympics and the last Fed Cup contest, the title at home went a long way to winning back the favor of Swiss fans, who raised the roof as she claimed her trophy.

"They were great and winning a final can help them forget," said Hingis. "It was definitely a good choice not to go to the Olympics. It paid off. I was fresh and won my last two tournaments."

Hingis got off to a sluggish start, losing her opening serve to fall behind 2-0 and appeared to put little effort into even the easiest of shots, despite the vocal support of the crowd egging her on at the Schluefweg Arena.

But the Swiss star slowly got into the match, giving Davenport a taste of her own medicine, closing out her own service game with an ace to decrease her deficit to 2-1, then breaking Davenport to even the games 2-2.

The two fought it out evenly until the 10th game, when Hingis broke the American, sealing the game and the set with an imperious crosscourt forehand return.

In the second set, Hingis struggled with Davenport's powerful forehand and blistering serves, surrendering her service game at 2-2 and unable to regain it, the American closing out the set on a pair of thundering aces, and another pair of serves that Hingis sent back wildly.

In the third, up 2-1, Hingis had the chance to break the American, but squandered two break points, leaving the tense crowd in a frenzy.

The crowd continued to worry as Davenport took 10 points in a row, blanking the Swiss player on her own serve on the way to a 4-3 lead, but breathed a sigh of relief as a determined Hingis immediately broke back.

In a nail-biting finish, the two traded breaks again, with the score remaining even at 5-5. But the Swiss player accumulated two match points on her opponent's serve at 6-5, wrapping up the match when Davenport sent a forehand shot into the net.

"At the end I just couldn't win that last game and that was a bit of a disappointment," said Davenport, who was making a comeback from a three-week layoff after tendonitis in her left foot forced her to default from the Sydney Olympics. "I was trying to hit too good instead of playing relaxed and hitting it smoothly.

"It's pretty discouraging," concluded the American, who has lost eight finals this season. "That's twice this year that I was serving for the match in a final and lost."

It marked the fourth time the two have met in a final this season, with Davenport winning at the Australian Open and Indian Wells and Hingis prevailing in Miami and Zurich.

While good-natured, the rivalry between the two players has gotten increasingly intense over the past two years. The pair have been wrangling for pole position since Davenport took the No. 1 ranking from Hingis here in 1998, when the Swiss star withdrew because of injury.

With the victory, Hingis remains atop women's tennis for a 22nd consecutive week, since regaining the number one ranking in at the Italian Open.

Oddly, while Hingis never really benefitted from home court advantage before, Davenport had enjoyed non-stop success in Switzerland until Sunday.

Since losing her debut match in the tiny Alpine nation in the first round of Lucerne in 1992, Davenport went on to win back-to-back titles there in 1993 and 1994 and in Zurich in 1997 and 1998.