Martina Hingis knows how it feels to be blown away in a final after being drained, mentally and physically, by the effort of winning a semi-final. It happened to her when she played the Williams sisters one after the other at the United States Open last year, Venus drawing Hingis's sting, Serena making the kill.
It was Hingis's turn to capitalise at the Ericsson Open on Saturday, after Lindsay Davenport, whose game seemed stale throughout the tournament, exhausted her reserves of power in overcoming Sandrine Testud, of France, in the semi-finals.
"Lindsay came off a tough win against Sandrine, and it's not that easy to play three tournaments in a row," Hingis acknowledged after taking only 58 minutes to defeat her chief rival, 6-3, 6-2. "Even if things are going well and everything you play is great, it's still very tiring. It takes a lot out of you. Every time you go out there you have to motivate yourself, push yourself one more day, one more time."
Hingis's semi-final amounted to a 39-minute stroll against the injured Monica Seles, 6-0, 6-0, leaving plenty in the tank for running around the court, returning most of the shots Davenport was still capable of driving towards the lines.
Even when Davenport trailed by a set and 4-2, many in the crowd remained optimistic that the towering Wimbledon champion would turn the match in her favour, as she did against Hingis in Indian Wells a fortnight earlier, winning the last 10 games. That had been Davenport's fifth consecutive victory against Hingis in finals and increased her head-to-head lead against the Swiss to 11-7.
This time, Hingis was as primed as Davenport was pooped. The American's hopes of producing enough adrenalin to make a difference began to fade in the first set, when she was unable to hold serve for 4-4 after recovering from 0-4.
"I started slowly, and Martina jumped all over me," Davenport said. "[At 0-4] I was thinking, 'Oh, God, I feel like Monica now'. I got right back into it. I put myself right back out of it. If I had held my serve to go 4-all, it would have been a little different. I had a game point there, and didn't win. Right away she breaks me back to go 5-3 up. Then she was fine, confident again. You can come back with Martina, but you've got to make sure you get even, or on top, before she's going to get visibly frustrated."
Davenport did not use her bruised foot to excuse the lacklustre performance. "My body didn't recover as well as my foot did," she said. "I just felt heavy, really heavy today, really flat."
Hingis used the hot, windy conditions to her advantage, delivering 72 per cent of her first serves and making only 10 unforced errors to Davenport's 40. "In these weather conditions," Hingis said, "players like Lindsay, or Monica, or Mary [Pierce], or the Williams sisters can't just simply overpower me with their serve or groundies.
"My game is to run and get as many balls back as I can, then try to to do something. Here you just can't go for big shots, because it's too dangerous. The easy shots you get, like on the service lines, you're not allowed to miss them, not against players like Monica or Lindsay. You have to be patient.
"Sometimes I think the players, because they're nervous playing me, feel they have to hit the lines or go for a big shot, or go for a winner, because they're too intimidated."
Hingis knows she will need every intelligent move and every ounce of energy to keep pace with Davenport. "I'm on the way back, playing well again," she said. "I'm thinking more on court, making the right decisions at the right time."
On the way back? The WTA Tour's 52-week world ranking system meant that Hingis stayed at No 1 after Indian Wells, even though Davenport defeated her in the final. Today, Davenport goes back to No 1 on the strength of the points she gained by reaching the final here.
"Lindsay deserves to be No 1," Hingis said. "So far this season she's played very well. But it's a different pressure being No 1 and No 2. Now I'm the hunter again."
Like Hingis, Davenport relishes the rivalry. "It's been pretty exciting the last few weeks with the race between Martina and I for No 1," she said. "I think it's been a great story line. We go on from here."
While defeating all her opponents in straight sets here, the 19-year-old Hingis has had to contend with the presence of a stalker. Dubrayko Rajcezic, 45, from Croatia, made a court appearance on Monday and was taken from the tournament site in handcuffs on Saturday.
"The guy is obviously a little strange," Hingis said. "I saw him before, in Zurich. He's maybe a little crazy. He's, like, in love with me. Actually, in the beginning, I tried to tell him, 'I've got a friend, I'm happy'. He just likes attention."
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