Powerhouse Davenport sounds warning to rivals

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The Independent Online

It had the appearance of a Wimbledon final and it played like one. One of the very best. Whatever transpires to be the last game of the women's competition on Saturday afternoon has much to do to emulate the fabulous benchmark set by Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters yesterday.

It had the appearance of a Wimbledon final and it played like one. One of the very best. Whatever transpires to be the last game of the women's competition on Saturday afternoon has much to do to emulate the fabulous benchmark set by Lindsay Davenport and Kim Clijsters yesterday.

It was almost a waste that the two heavyweights should use the forum of the fourth round for their brutally attractive encounter, but it was a bonus for those able to witness such a high-velocity meeting.

Chief among the many winners was Davenport, whose smile at the culmination of a 6-3, 6-7, 6-3 triumph was that of a woman who knew she could not get much better than this. Seldom can Clijsters have played so proficiently in a doomed contest. It will have been scant comfort after departing, but the Belgian now knows she is back to the sort of form that once propelled her to No 1 status following a fallow period with wrist and knee problems.

The background suggested the classic. Davenport was in familiar tournament territory, having reached the round of 16 for 17 straight Grand Slams. Clijsters had managed the same for the last eight.

The Californian had conceded just eight games in three rounds, but, as is typical, had sneaked under the radar as a player of discussion. Neither youth nor glamour are part of the 29-year-old's fabric. The world No 1 is notable for more yeoman virtues, notably a blacksmith's serve, the best in the women's game.

On another baking day, the players appeared on the Centre Court. By this stage of a warm-weather Wimbledon the baselines and the crowd were turning brown. There was further heat on court, where Davenport and Clijsters generated enough power to maintain the National Grid. The two Amazons first swapped broken service games.

Clijsters overpressed to start with as the range finder initially malfunctioned, and she needed to find swift correction as the Davenport game was immediately in gear. There is little nimble about the American's modus operandi, but there was much to admire about her relentless destruction. She is a logging machine of the tennis court.

On both flanks there was nothing as watchful or negative as topspin, just flat, murderous hitting. Eventually the pressure had to tell and that moment came at 3-3, when a Clijsters forehand drifted wide. Disquieted by that reversal, the No 15 seed promptly dropped her next service as well.

The raw ballistics continued into the second set, in which Davenport surrendered a match point as Clijsters' powers of retrieval forced her back into the match. That effort may have told, though, as the decisive set was the least competitive of the match. That still meant it would have graced any other meeting yesterday.

It was not long ago that Davenport was talking about retirement and starting a family. Now, though, we are witnessing a slimmed-down model of what has been one of the more considerable chassis of the modern era. While others have fallen victim to injury (the Belgians) and perhaps off-court distractions (the Williams), Davenport has regained pole position.

"I very rarely pat myself on the back, but the players I felt were running me out of the game in 2002, 2003 and a little bit of 2004. I'm happy that I was able to mentally overcome those barriers with all of them," the champion of 1999 said. "Working out and getting in better shape has helped me mentally and all of that gives me confidence when it's a little bit closer now.

"I was really bummed today about not winning the second [set], but I was able to come back in the third and really just kind of calm down and play a little bit cleaner again. I was trying to keep my cool, which I thought I did a good job with."

Clijsters admitted that even in defeat she had not felt as good as this on a tennis court for some time. She recognised the best in herself even if the figure over the net was less easy to identify.

"I played well and did everything I could and, in the end, it just wasn't good enough," Clijsters said. "She [Davenport] is fitter than she's ever been. I've seen her work in the gym, lifting weights, stuff that I've never seen her do. She seems very hungry to play, more than I've ever seen her play. Maybe she's so motivated because she knows it's her last year and she wants to put everything she has into it.

"She puts you under so much pressure. From the moment you hit a second serve you have to start running. At the end of the day, she served and returned a lot better than I did, a lot more aggressive and a lot more precise. It's so tough against her because she hits the ball so deep."

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