Davenport Close to Elite Status
Davenport Close to Elite Status
By Matthew Cronin, at Pacific Life Open
INDIAN WELLS -- Coming into the Pacific Life Open, three-time Grand Slam champion Lindsay Davenport was playing with as
little confidence as she had at any time in her career. She hadn’t scored a win over a true elite player since her come back from knee surgery last July and was complaining that her transition from her longtime coach Robert Van’t Hof to her current, coach, Rich Leach, wasn’t as easy as she thought it would be.
But in the semifinals on Friday, Davenport upended second seed Jennifer Capriati 6-4 4-6 6-4 to reach the final against top seed Kim Clijsters. It was by far Davenport’s most impressive of the year and is a signal that the oak tree-strong Southern California will make a serious push for the top-three again this year.
"That was really hard fought match with high quality tennis,"
said Davenport, who ended the match with 50 winners to only 23 from her opponent. "I haven’t played at that level for a few months so it’s really exciting. It’s a big win for me."
Capriati's closing problems aside, it was Davenport who was the more aggressive and brave player in the third set, coming back from a 3-4 deficit behind nuclear groundstrokes and inventive volleys.
After Capriati had broken back to 3-3 and held to 4-3, the 26-year-old Davenport bore down, holding to 4-4 and then broke Capriati to 5-4 when her Jennifer committed two totally unnecessary unforced errors.
After Capriati took a medical timeout to treat a hamstring injury, Davenport got behind 0-30, but served out the contest with neat backhand volley winner, watched Capriati miss another forehand crosscourt and then cracked a service winner.
"She stepped it up at that point more than I did,’ Capriati said. "She got some good opportunities and took advantage of them. She played some unbelievable tennis."
An ebullient Davenport added that it was nice to be able to close out a big match again.
"That seemed like it went really easy.," she said. "I know it wasn't.
Sometimes they're just struggles, and sometimes it just happens where you're able to close it out like that. But it was such a close match all the way throughout. I stayed very calm tonight. I should bottle that up and keep it for more matches."
The 26-year-old Davenport will be married to former USC All-American Jon Leach some time this year. But for right now, she focusing squarely on regaining the form that once brought her to No. 1.
Davenport spent the first half of '02 recovering from knee surgery and while she reached the semis of the U.S. Open and finals of Manhattan Beach, New Haven, Moscow and Zurich, she's still not completely satisfied. This year, she lost to Clijsters in the final of Sydney, lost a three-hour, 13-minute match to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the fourth round of the Aussie Open, took
out a declining Monica Seles in the final of Tokyo and lost to eventual champ Ai Sugiyama in Scottsdale
"I was getting frustrated at my inability to play at the level I thought I could play at," Davenport said. "Beating Jennifer is a big win. I though I had a tough draw when this tournament started so to get to the final is great."
Davenport is 6-4 against Clijsters, but the 19-year-old Belgian has beaten her three out of the last four times they’ve played. Clijsters is significantly faster than Davenport is, but Davenport hits the ball cleaner and is much more consistent. Lindsay knows she’s going to have to come out firing.
"Kim has probably has turned the table on a lot of players," Davenport said. "Her level the last few months has dramatically improved. Her ability to play the bigger matches has improved quite a bit. We've had some close matches. She gets more balls back than most girls get back. It's sometimes just those extra few balls that you have to keep going for. Hopefully can I keep my patience up there and pick the right shot to go for. I think her backhand is one of the best out there. I'm going to have to try and attack
her forehand a little bit, take my chances with some second serves. I'm going to have to be ready to come in and try and take some balls out of the air and not let her keep getting balls back."
If Davenport does manage to beat Clijsters, she’ll put her squarely back on to the list of those players who may have a shot to knock off the Williamses. That’s exactly where she wants to be.