New No 1 Davenport struggles through to meet Hingis in final

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The Independent Online

Lindsay Davenport will take over the number 1 ranking next week, further proof that she has Martina Hingis' number.

Davenport has dominated their rivalry lately, and they meet again on Saturday in the final of the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne.

Hingis was number 1 for much of the past three years and the past 32 weeks. But thanks to a harrowing semifinal victory on Thursday over Sandrine Testud, Davenport is assured of the top spot next week, and deservedly so, according to Hingis.

"She has played unbelievable this season and against me," Hingis said.

Davenport has beaten Hingis five consecutive times, including finals this year at the Australian Open and Indian Wells, California.

"I'll give it another try," Hingis said.

With Steffi Graf retired, Venus Williams mulling retirement and Serena Williams in a slump, Davenport and Hingis are dominating the women's tour. Davenport is 35-1 since September, while Hingis has reached five consecutive finals this year.

"We're pretty far ahead of everybody in terms of ranking points and titles over the past 10 months," Davenport said. "You never know when things will change and a player will become hot. But for right now, I think Martina and I are head and shoulders above the rest."

The top-seeded Hingis advanced to the final on Thursday by handing number 7 Monica Seles the worst beating of her career, 6-0, 6-0. Davenport, seeded second, blew an early lead and needed a late comeback to edge the 12th-seeded Testud 6-1, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5).

"It's much more exciting to win 7-6 in the third and be number 1 than to win zero and zero," Davenport said with a laugh.

The tall American moved poorly and hit wildly for much of the match, but she came through with four baseline winners in the deciding tiebreaker. Davenport said her left foot bothered her in the late going, but she practiced without pain on Friday.

"Hopefully it's just a bruise," she said.

Davenport, who has won three of the past six Grand Slams, advanced to the Key Biscayne final for the first time in nine tries.

"It would mean more to me to win this tournament than to be number 1," she said. "It's one of the few hardcourt tournaments I haven't won."

Hingis, the 1997 champion, has won only one set in five matches against Davenport dating back to January 1999. Two weeks ago, Davenport rallied from a 6-4, 4-2 deficit to beat Hingis in the Indian Wells final.

"I'm able to overpower her the last few times," Davenport said. "At Indian Wells, even though she was up, once I got the break back, she kind of folded. She just doesn't like to play me. I don't know why."

The biggest reason may be that Hingis' finesse game doesn't match up well against her hard-hitting rival. Davenport feasts on Hingis' biggest weakness, a powder-puff second serve.

"I think my service game has improved a lot," Hingis said. "I can kind of believe in my serve now."

Testud declined to predict the outcome of the final.

"It's going to be a great match," she said. "They are the two best players in the world right now."

Results from the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida:

Men Singles Semi-finals

(6) Gustavo Kuerten (Br) def. (1) Andre Agassi (US) 6-1, 6-4. (2) Pete Sampras (US) def. (14) Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) 6-3, 3-6, 6-1.

Doubles Semi-finals

Martin Damm (Cz Rep) and Dominik Hrbaty (Slovak) def. Alex O'Brien and Jared Palmer (US) 3-6, 6-3, 7-5.

Women Doubles Semi-finals

Julie Halard-Decugis (Fr) and Ai Sugiyama (Japan) def. Anke Huber (Ger) and Barbara Schett (Aut) 6-2, 7-6 (5). Nicole Arendt (US) and Manon Bollegraf (Neth) def. Liezel Horn (SA) and Laura Montalvo (Arg) 7-6 (5), 6-2.

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