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Does he even bother to check dates? Can he just browse the U.S. Open site and see that Lindsay played Martina in the '98 final? Is this man the Jason Blair of sports writing?

Send him your comments: http://add.yahoo.com/fast/help/us/sports/cgi_wetzel

by Dan Wetzel
NEW YORK – When tennis fans here at the U.S. Open got around to discussing the women's draw during the week's many drizzle delays, all the talk was about who wasn't in it.

Serena. Venus. Anna.

But isn't that always the way? Focusing on those who got away, not appreciating the ones that didn't.

That brings us to Thursday night's women's quarterfinals, in which the players that are present provided a powerful reminder that even sans the sisters Williams, there is still some serious star power here.

Like Lindsay and Jennifer. Or, if you happen to be Belgian, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne.

As if the Friday night crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium will need any motivation, it will be the Americans, Davenport and Capriati, that will go off as the underdogs to the top two seeds, Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne, respectively.

All four players dominated their matches on Thursday. All four appear capable of taking this event for the first time since the Williamses took over tennis. All four appear ready to give New York a Friday prime time to remember.

"I think it will be great for the fans, great for the players," Capriati said. "(It) just feels like all of a sudden everything's happening so fast."

Because of the injuries to the Williams sisters there was talk that this was the Open where the men might be able to muscle back into the spotlight.

The past four years – as Venus and Serena slugged it out with Martina Hingis, Anna tarted around and everyone else made it competitive – this became the sport where the women outshined the men.

They had the storylines, the personalities, the drama. Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin didn't stand a chance.

But despite missing its brightest stars, it turns out the women's field hasn't been wiped out after all. In fact, it looks energized.

No player wants to admit she feels more confident this year, but the reality is that without a Williams looming, the U.S. Open is right there for the taking. The sisters have not only split the last four titles, they faced each other in the last two finals.

Since Davenport won it in 1998 (beating Venus in the final), the Williamses have plowed through the field, leaving a lot of snuffed out Grand Slam dreams in their wake. But they aren't here this year, which changes everything.

"Maybe a little bit," said Davenport, who was eliminated by Venus in 2000 and Serena in 1997, 1999 and 2002. "I mean, it's obviously a much different draw without them in. A lot of players move up in the seedings. You don't have past champions here."

CBS is, no doubt, praying for a potential Davenport-Capriati Saturday night final. The USTA can be excused for doing the same, since the matchup would help would salvage a tough week here.

Predicting fan loyalty isn't too difficult, either. This is New York, after all, not Brussels.

"I'm sure the crowd will be against me," said Clijsters, the Belgian who is the top seed. "I'm sure it will be a great atmosphere."

Davenport, who dominated Paola Suarez 6-4, 6-0 in the quarters, will have her hands full with Clijsters, who has won five straight matches against her.
"I think I am (the underdog), for sure," Davenport said. "She's a fighter. Great competitor."

Meanwhile Capriati, who crushed Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-3, is wary of Henin-Hardenne.

"You know, I still feel I don't have the pressure, even though I'm here in the U.S. Open," Capriati said. "She hits the ball big. She's moving well. She's coming off a lot of wins. I think she's the one that you would think was supposed to win."

Like Davenport, Capriati has won three majors. But she has never gotten further than the semifinals of the Open, most recently in 2001, before Venus took her out.

If America's former tennis princess is ever going to win America's major, this may be her best opportunity.

"This (would be special) because I've come close before and didn't win," Capriati said. "Just being in my hometown would make it great for me."

A dream final with a fellow American would just make it better.

"It's pretty exciting," Davenport said. "I'm sure, you know, Kim and Justine want to play each other in the finals. And certainly Jennifer and I would love to face each other in the U.S. Open final."

But first – Friday night, which should be rocking because of who is here, not quiet because of who isn't.

Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. Send him a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
 
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