Home comforts give Davenport edge over Dokic

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The Independent Online

One of many status symbols on the tennis circuit is a house overlooking the grounds of the All England Club during Wimbledon fortnight. The sort of rent such properties command is enough to turn most players' faces as predominantly white as their clothing, but Lindsay Davenport, a finalist for the past two years, has happily paid up again and is feeling the benefit.

In contrast, today's opponent in the most intriguing of the women's fourth round matches, Jelena Dokic, is again bedding down with her family in a modest hotel in Putney, fighting the London traffic each day in a courtesy car whose driver, she claims, failed to turn up on Saturday, leaving her stressed and unable to practice before going out to play Barbara Schett.

Davenport has improved with every match, brushing aside Switzerland's Patty Schnyder in well under an hour in the third round for a seventh straight win on grass since returning to competitive tennis after 10 weeks' absence with a knee injury. The plaster on her knee and a thigh bandage appear to be no more than psychological props. "I haven't felt it's slowed me down at all the last two weeks," she said. "I'm timing the ball a little bit better than I was a few days ago. Obviously there are much bigger tests coming up this week."

For the Centre Court test against Dokic, whom she beat 6-4, 6-2 in last year's semi-final before losing to Venus Williams, Davenport will stroll through the grounds from her prime SW19 residence: "I love staying out here, it is very relaxing. I love walking to the courts. I think that takes [away] a lot of the stress and pressures of some of the other Grand Slams. Everything seems to flow so easily here." Dokic must hope the traffic does today and that her car turns up this time. On Saturday she used her annoyance at its absence and at a tabloid article on Beauty ("Babsi" Schett) and The Beast (Jelena's father Damir) to psyche herself up, but a calmer state of mind might serve her better against an opponent less flaky than Schett.

The fourth round is missing six of the 16 women seeded to get there, most notably in the upper quarter, where Martina Hingis (the top seed), Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (13) and Elena Dementieva (10) all perished prematurely. That leaves only Belgium's Justine Henin, of the classical backhand, though she almost left the stage two rounds ago, when trailing 7-5, 4-1 to Kristie Boogert. This afternoon Henin must overcome Germany's Anke Huber, a veteran of 11 Wimbledons, but never a quarter-finalist.

Two teenaged Russians are the only women from outside the original 32 seeds to have survived. Lina Krasnoroutskaya, 17, plays Conchita Martinez, the 1994 champion, and Nadia Petrova, 19, ranked 42 in the world, has an even more daunting task against Venus Williams.

It will not have helped Petrova sleep any better last night to hear that the defending champion, having cruised through three matches, is looking for an improvement. "There's a few things I would like to work on, like to see myself do better," Williams said after seeing off another talented young Russian, Elena Likhovtseva. "Just a lot of technical things, although I would like to improve my return game."

Conceding 14 games in those matches looks profligate next to the record of her little sister. Serena has dropped only eight so far and is on course for an eagerly anticipated quarter-final against Jennifer Capriati. Standing in the way of that American dream are Sandrine Testud, who starts the Court One programme against Capriati, and Magdalena Maleeva, the experienced Bulgarian who, like today's opponent Serena, knows all about sibling rivalry – in the early 1990s three Maleeva sisters were regulars at the highest level.

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