Work in Sports
Score another one for substance
Posted: Saturday January 29, 2000 07:44 PM
By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated
MELBOURNE -- Pity Martina Hingis. A day after she was lambasted for being a sore loser, she had a fresh opportunity to be more gracious in defeat. The three-time defending champ ran into a runaway freight train, better known as Lindsay Davenport, in the women's final Saturday here. And barely an hour after taking the court, Hingis sat slumped in her chair, running a hand across her forehead, composing a concession speech in her head. "I just don't know what to say," she exclaimed uncharacteristically, after getting pasted 6-1, 7-5. "My streak had ended in Australia."
It didn't just end. It was crushed to smithereens by the best player on tour at the moment. Showing no ill effects of the stomach-muscle injury that caused her to withdraw from the doubles competition on Thursday, Davenport threatened to turn this match into a game of beat the clock. Behind penetrating strokes that clipped the lines, she snatched the first set in 20 minutes. Faster than you can sing Waltzing Matilda, she was up 5-1 in the second. "I was thinking, It can't be this easy," said Davenport.
It wasn't. Hingis staged a furious rally -- aided by some sweaty-palmed play by her opponent -- to even the set at 5-all. But after taking a deep breath and adjusting her rhythms, Davenport relocated her radar. When Hingis made her 23rd unforced error on match point, Davenport did a goofy pirouette, pumped her first and strode calmly to the net. This Grand Slam business, it's becoming second nature. "Now I just need the French," said Davenport afterwards. "It's kind of crazy."
For all the heat and tabloid titillation that women's tennis has been generating lately, Davenport's name surfaces with startling infrequency. She hasn't been caught mashing with a hottie du jour, she has no inclination to design her own micro mini-skirts, she won't appear in a movie this summer, and her entourage consists only of her equally down-to-earth coach, Robert Van't Hof. Yet as Hingis failed to win a Slam for the seventh time in her last eight tries, as the Williams sisters try to give Betsey Johnson a run for her money, as Anna Kournikova still seeks her first title of any sort, Davenport reigns supreme. A lot can happen over the next 11 months. But the tally in women's tennis right now: Style 0, Substance 1.
Although Davenport hadn't dropped a set to Hingis the last three times they played, she was nearly a 3-1 underdog entering the match. ... Granted it was a ghostwritten column, but John McEnroe had some harsh words for Pete Sampras in Saturday's Weekend Australian, claiming that he never got the feeling Sampras wanted to go to Zimbabwe to play Davis Cup in the first place. ... You hate to saddle a junior with undue expectations -- leave that to IMG -- but American teenager Andy Roddick is "the goods," as they say here. ... Here's unpretentious Davenport in a nutshell: At a time when most women players don't leave their parents' sight, Davenport called her mom, Ann, in California and actually asked: "Mom, were you watching?" (No, Lindsay, she was flipping back and forth between the Real World marathon and Dr. Katz.)
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