At the other end of this century, tennis players swilled champagne during changeovers. But Martina Hingis drained no magnums on Sunday during the final of the Chase Championships in New York City. Playing as flat as day-old Canada Dry, the normally bubbly Hingis got toasted 6-4, 6-2 by Lindsay Davenport. The No. 2-ranked Davenport, who poured nine aces and dropped only four points on serve, was the life of the millennium-ending party at Madison Square Garden.
For the last 100 years—or at least since hard-drinking Suzanne Lenglen outgutted and outglutted hard-serving Helen Wills at Cannes in 1926—the most riveting rivalries in the women's game have been two-pronged: Bueno-Hard, Court-King, Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Seles. That all changed in 1999, when the world of women's tennis seemed to revolve on the three-teen axis of Hingis, 19, and the Williams sisters, 19-year-old Venus (the current No. 3) and 18-year-old Serena (No. 4). Mixing on-court panache with off-court badinage, this trio of ingenues snared most of the headlines and snagged 17 of the titles, including the Australian Open (Hingis) and U.S. Open ( Serena) crowns.
Spinning blithely in her own orbit was Davenport, a sometimes ungainly 23-year-old happy to be odd-woman-out. "The lack of media attention definitely helped me," says Davenport, the reigning Wimbledon champ. "It freed me up to concentrate on improving my game against the other three. Right now, the four of us are playing at a higher level than everyone else."
So high that none of the other 12 singles players at the Chase were ever in the chase. Hingis's 6-1, 6-2 quarterfinal thrashing of fifth-ranked Mary Pierce was even more one-sided than the score suggests. In the semis Davenport spit out the sixth seed, Nathalie Tauziat, who turned in the most transparent French tank job since the fall of Paris. Tauziat won only four points in the 18-minute second set and surrendered the match on back-to-back double faults.
Venus was so confident of winning her second-set tiebreaker against Barbara Schett in the quarterfinals that she leapfrogged the net during a changeover, thereby qualifying for the women's high jump at next year's Millrose Games. She had less to say about her appearance—she wore a backless, sideless tennis dress the color of antifreeze—than about the recent appearance she and Serena made on Hollywood Squares. "I was born in 1980," grumbled Venus, who studies fashion and psychology as a freshman at the Art Institute of Florida in Miami. "They asked which movie did Molly Ringwald star in with a lot of teenagers. I don't know. Who was the fourth president of the United States? I don't know!" Now, if she'd only been grilled on fashion psych....
One thing Venus did know was the benefit of Serena's withdrawal from the Chase with a back injury. "It'll be good for everyone," Venus said. She and the rest of the field wouldn't have to "worry about fighting against Serena. Little sisters are mean."
Neither sibling attended a gala Garden retirement ceremony for Steffi Graf. "We had homework," said Venus. ( Serena is taking the same classes as her sister.) Davenport didn't show up, either. Her relationship with Graf, a five-time Chase champion, is prickly. "When I played well against Steffi, she never gave me credit," Davenport says. "Some things she said about me over the years were so...German."
Hingis, who was in the Garden during the ceremony, acknowledged before her semifinal showdown with Venus that more than a title shot was at stake for her. A win would avenge her only four losses since Wimbledon, all to the Williams sisters. Small and stealthy and cursed with one of the sport's weakest serves, Hingis gave away six inches and nearly 40 mph to the 6'1" Venus. So for nearly two hours she exploited Williams's tactical naivet�, luring her into lengthy baseline exchanges, entangling her in a web of spins and fending her off with sharply angled returns to win 6-4, 7-6.
After seven double faults, 33 unforced errors and one neck massage, Williams alibied that a strained back had hampered her. "My dad advised me not to play," she said. "Naturally, as a child I didn't listen." Asked if she thought a limited tournament schedule made her and Serena more susceptible to injury, Venus said, "No, I think we have too many muscles."
Hingis has so few that if the sisters ever master their emotions and harness their formidable gifts, her reign as No. 1 may end. " Serena is the Williams closest to breaking through," says Davenport. "Her placement is better than Venus's, and she's mentally tougher. But Venus won't go away quietly." Neither will Davenport. Judging by her win in the Chase, you can bank on that.