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Down, Never Out

Times Staff Writer

For Lindsay Davenport, routine turned random, and ultimately ruthless, in a matter of minutes.

Her spot in the quarterfinals of the Home Depot WTA Championships was practically in front of her, in essence, there for the taking. Not once, not twice and not three times ... but seven times.

Davenport squandered seven match points in her first-round match against Monica Seles on Wednesday night at Staples Center, as the sixth-seeded Seles defeated Davenport, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3, in two hours eight minutes before an estimated 3,200. The match points all came in the second set, one in the 10th game, two in the 12th game and four more in the tiebreaker.

“It was definitely a weird match, to say the least,” Seles said. “I toughed it out. I was running down a lot of shots and Lindsay got frustrated.”

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It was a significant breakthrough for Seles on many levels. Seles, who will turn 29 in December, had not played a tournament since losing in the semifinals at Bahia, Brazil, the week after the U.S. Open and had to spend most of the year fending off annoying inquiries about retirement. Seles had not defeated Davenport since 1997, in three sets in the Manhattan Beach final. Davenport won nine straight matches against Seles, dropping just two sets. She led their series, 9-2, before Wednesday’s match.

In the quarterfinals, Seles will face No. 2 Venus Williams, a 6-2, 7-6 (7) winner over Patty Schnyder of Switzerland in the final match of Wednesday’s evening session.

Almost more than anyone else, Seles wanted to be here. She dearly wanted to play in these Championships at least one more time before she retired and that prospect seemed doubtful when the event moved from New York to Munich, Germany, last year.

Seles has not played any events there since she was stabbed in Hamburg in 1993. So she was delighted when officials decided to move the season-ending tournament to Los Angeles.

Seles said on Wednesday that when she played Martina Hingis -- losing in three sets -- in the final of the 2000 Championships in New York that she thought it was her last time in the event. After having gone through that process, returning, and winning, made it much more gratifying.

Davenport, who lives a short car ride away in Laguna Beach, had been pleased by the move of the tournament, too. At least until the second set.

It seemed as though it was going to be a run-of-the-mill victory, as Davenport took the first set, 6-3, and led, 3-0, in the second. Seles kept scrambling and broke Davenport’s serve in the fifth game of the second. But once Davenport starting piling up the match points, it seemed inconceivable that Seles could fight her way out of it especially since she had been idle since September.

On the first three match points, Davenport netted a backhand return, netted a backhand on an approach shot by Seles and netted another forehand. In the tiebreaker, Davenport established a commanding 6-2 lead, but Seles stormed back, saving four more match points with sharp forehand winners on two of them. By then, Davenport’s negative body language showed it was slipping away. At 6-6, Davenport hit a backhand long and Seles won it on her first set point when Davenport netted a forehand volley.

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In the third, the decisive break came in the eighth game. Seles broke Davenport at love to take a 5-3 lead. Energized, Seles finished strongly and served out the match at love. She needed one match point to do it, securing the victory when Davenport hit a backhand in the net.

“It kept snowballing on me,” Davenport said. “There’s no question she plays well when she’s down and steps it up a level and at the same time I didn’t.”

They shared a warm moment at the net, and this particular match-up is never an easy one for either. Seles and Davenport are close friends, have been on several Fed Cup teams together and even have the same agent. But Seles has a way of saving match points when she plays tournaments in Southern California. She fought off six of them in the quarterfinals at Manhattan Beach against Serena Williams in the quarterfinals last year and won it.

“I just think you have to go for your shots at that stage,” she said. "[There’s] a little bit of luck.... I was having a hard time not playing for the last two months. I was having problems on the return. It was a very up-and-down match on both sides.”

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At a Glance

*--* A look at the WTA Championships at Staples Center: WEDNESDAY’S RESULTS Justine Henin def. Elena Dementieva, 6-3, 6-3 Kim Clijsters def. Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-2 Monica Seles def. Lindsay Davenport, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 Venus Williams def. Patty Schnyder, 6-2, 7-6 (7) TODAY’S MATCHES 12:30 p.m Anastasia Myskina (RUS) vs. Jelena Dokic (YUG) Magdalena Maleeva (BUL) vs. Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) 7 p.m Serena Williams (U.S.) vs. Anna Smashnova (ISR) Jennifer Capriati (U.S.) vs. Silvia Farina Elia (ITA) TV: 12:30 p.m., ESPN; 8 p.m., ESPN2

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Seles vs. Davenport

Monica Seles saved seven match points in beating Lindsay Davenport for the first time after nine defeats during the first round of the WTA Championships. A look:

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*--* Year Venue Round Score Winner 1996 Sydney Final 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3 Seles 1997 Manhattan Beach Final 5-7, 7-5, 6-4 Seles 1998 San Diego Semis 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 Davenport 1998 Manhattan Beach Semis 6-4, 6-2 Davenport 1998 Philadelphia Semis 6-3, 6-3 Davenport 1999 Tokyo Final 7-5, 7-6 (1) Davenport 2000 Scottsdale Quarters 6-4, 6-4 Davenport 2000 Wimbledon Quarters 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-0 Davenport 2000 Stanford Semis 7-5, 7-6 (2) Davenport 2001 Stanford Semis 6-4, 6-2 Davenport 2001 Manhattan Beach Final 6-3, 7-5 Davenport 2002 Los Angeles 1st round 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 Seles

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