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Williams Ends Davenport Jinx

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

For Venus Williams, the losses to Lindsay Davenport were piling up like plastic bricks in Legoland. And, doubly frustrating, she simply couldn’t outmuscle Davenport.

Even in defeats against the likes of Martina Hingis, Williams took solace in knowing she could at least hammer the ball, at will, and there was a very good chance it wouldn’t come back.

Finally, and powerfully, Williams eased more than a year of futility against Davenport, defeating the No. 1-ranked player, 6-4, 7-5, in the semifinals of the TIG Tennis Classic at La Costa Resort & Spa on Saturday. For the fourth-seeded Williams, it was only her second victory in 10 matches against Davenport, and first since Oklahoma City in 1998.

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The loss had larger ramifications for Davenport. It ended her 13-match winning streak and returned the No. 1 ranking to Hingis. Hingis, who lost the top spot to Davenport after exiting in the first round at Wimbledon, will regain No. 1 when the WTA rankings are released Monday.

Williams propped the door open, and the second-seeded Hingis took advantage of the opportunity to grab No. 1 by defeating seventh-seeded Amanda Coetzer of South Africa, 6-1, 6-2, in 51 minutes in the night semifinal.

“I didn’t really expect it,” Hingis said. “Coming into this tournament, I was happy to win the first round and then to just keep going. And all of a sudden I’m back on top. It feels good.”

Williams, however, has looked so formidable that Hingis actually accepted the role of the challenger.

“Underdog,” Hingis said, laughing. “Yeah, I feel like that. I don’t want to put [on] too much pressure. It would be nice to regain the No. 1 spot by winning the tournament, of course.”

Coetzer, who struggled in losing 13 of the final 14 points, noticed a difference in Hingis, saying: “I’ve seen her where she’s a lot more emotional. She did just get down to business.”

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Today’s final between Hingis and Williams will be their 10th meeting, with Hingis leading, 6-3. They’ve played only once this year, and Williams defeated Hingis on clay in the Italian Open semifinals.

“I think it’s an exciting match--for the crowd too--two youngsters they always talk about,” Hingis said. “She’s a very powerful player, and has a good serve. I just have to take my chances. If I don’t do that, I’m out of there.”

That was hardly the problem for Davenport. She said she felt flat and looked it. Davenport, of Newport Beach, the reigning U.S. Open and Wimbledon champion, suffered her first defeat since losing in the French Open quarterfinals to Steffi Graf.

Still, she knew it would be “nearly impossible” to retain the No. 1 ranking and repeat her showing of last summer, winning three consecutive tournaments.

“I felt a little flat and a little sluggish,” Davenport said. “You get those days a lot of times throughout the year. You hope it is in the beginning of the week or days you can get through.

“Today, it was just one in the semifinals against a girl who is very good. I wasn’t really able to get myself going or get really pumped up. You try and fight through it, but today I just couldn’t do it.”

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Said Williams: “I don’t know why we were both off. Usually I’m off and she’s on, and I lose. Today I had to make my shots. I don’t know, I hope it was a good match for TV.”

Williams had lost five consecutive times to Davenport, and had failed to win a set in their last four matches. Although one of those losses was in the final at Palo Alto last Sunday, the 19-year-old Williams learned something.

“All the matches I played before, she did overpower me,” she said. “That was because I was unable to generate good power with my forehand. In the last match, I saw that she couldn’t overpower me anymore.”

Despite the erratic quality of the match, Williams played well on the big points, and finished well, winning five of the final six games. This time, her forehand was much more consistent than in other matches against Davenport.

“I don’t want to be picked on anymore,” Williams said. “I don’t want anyone to pick on my forehand just because it’s weak and I just give it to them. If I’m going to give it to them, I just want to hit it.

“So, it’s no longer my weakness. I’m really glad she [Davenport] sees that. So next time I’ll keep hitting it.

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“You have to send a message: ‘I’ve improved it. Find something else if you can.’ ”

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TIG TENNIS CLASSIC FINAL

Venus Williams (4) vs. Martina Hingis (2)

When: Noon, Ch. 11. Where: La Costa Resort & Spa, Carlsbad, Calif.

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