Flash Forward for Davenport

Times Staff Writer

An opponent pulls up limping and needs treatment from the trainer at an important juncture in the third set, unintentionally disrupting the rhythm of a riveting contest.

Trade a hot day for a chilled, windy evening and a Belgian for an American and Lindsay Davenport was having one of those flashback moments. Less than two months ago, it was Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium crumpling to the ground, a victim of cramps, at 7-7 in the third set at the Australian Open.

On Friday, with Davenport poised to serve for the match, at 5-4 in the third, and a spot in the Pacific Life Open final at Indian Wells, Jennifer Capriati left the court with the trainer and received treatment for a strained left hamstring.

In January, Davenport lost the match to Henin-Hardenne, dropping the final two games, and on Friday, her semifinal started to follow the same script when, after Capriati returned from the injury timeout, Davenport fell behind, 0-30.

But the beauty of sport is the instant rewrite.

Davenport won the final four points, including one brave backhand volley, defeating Capriati, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, and will play top-seeded Kim Clijsters of Belgium today in the women's final, weather permitting.

She had an interesting perspective on what was arguably the best-played women's match of this event. The fourth-seeded Davenport would have even viewed a loss as a positive step, so high was the level of play. Knee surgery early last year and a long recovery have a way of changing one's outlook.

"I don't feel like I've played at that level for a few months now, so that's really exciting," said Davenport, who returned to the tour in July.

"To come out on top, obviously it's a big win for me. I actually would have been OK losing because that's the best I've played in a number of months. And I was getting very frustrated at my inability to play at a level that I thought I could play at. It is a great win."

Meanwhile, Capriati became the holder of a tough 6-4 loss in that third set.

"We were both playing some really good tennis," said Capriati, who has not won a tournament since the 2002 Australian Open. "She just stepped it up at that point [trailing, 4-3] a little more than I did. She got some good opportunities."

The leg had been bothering her the last few days.

"I was fine the whole match and at the end it sort of started bothering me because I was just running around so much," she said. "With it being a little chilly and everything, finally it gave way a little bit."

Davenport is 6-4 against Clijsters, their most recent meeting coming at Sydney in the final in January. Clijsters won the match, 6-4, 6-3, and has defeated Davenport three of the last four times. Davenport won five of their first six meetings, not including a Fed Cup match in 2000, a non-WTA event.

"I think [Clijsters] probably has turned the table on a lot of players," Davenport said. "Her level the last few months has dramatically improved. Her ability to play the bigger matches has improved quite a bit."

This will be Davenport's third final in 2003; she has won one of them. It's the fourth final for Clijsters, who won at Sydney and was a finalist in Antwerp and Scottsdale. The 19-year-old Belgian is ranked No. 3 in the world behind Serena and Venus Williams. Davenport would move from No. 7 to No. 5 with a victory in the final and to No. 6 with a loss.

"Lindsay is the type of player, if she's on, she can play unbelievable," Clijsters said. "She can hit the ball so clean. Her weaker point is probably her movement still. You have to try to take advantage of that and return well."

Said Davenport: "We've had some close matches. For me, she gets more balls back than most girls get back. It's sometimes just those extra few balls that you have to keep going for. Hopefully, I can keep my patience."

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