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Winning Friends the Easy Part

Tennis: It's tougher for Lindsay Davenport to beat them; ex-roommate Zvereva loses at Manhattan Beach.


Most tennis players swear they don't pay attention to a tournament draw. Just as they never look beyond "this match" and they don't care whom they play, intent only on "staying focused and playing my game."


But believe Lindsay Davenport when she says she doesn't look at the draw, because for her each match holds a potentially agonizing collision with one of her many pals on the tour.

Seemingly each match is one she wants to win but against an opponent she doesn't want to beat.

If Davenport bonds with any more tour players, she may have a tough time enjoying any victories.

Davenport, ranked 10th, overcame sentiment Thursday and defeated Natasha Zvereva--friend, former roommate and new doubles partner--in a third-round match at the Acura Classic at Manhattan Beach. Davenport, seeded fourth, eliminated Zvereva, 7-5, 6-2, in 72 humid minutes, then felt badly about it.

Not as badly as she felt when she beat best friend Mary Joe Fernandez in the semifinals of the Olympics. No doubt winning the gold medal smoothed things over.

It's in Davenport's nature to make friends. Lacking at times a killer instinct, she has been prone to letting her concern for friends' feelings override the job at hand--winning.

Thus was Davenport thrown out of whack when she met Fernandez at Wimbledon in 1995, saying it was like playing her sister. Fernandez won the match, in which each player tentatively sent the ball back and forth, not wanting to offend.

Playing Fernandez in Atlanta was likewise loaded with emotional baggage. Neither player liked the idea of knocking off another American. Nor did they particularly want to take away the chance to win something that meant as much as an Olympic gold medal.

Davenport won, then apologized.

Having stepped back and viewed the Olympic experience from the vantage of a few weeks, Davenport, 20, now sees the value of it.

"Beating Mary Joe at the Olympics was something I needed to do," she said. "It was getting over a bump I needed to get over."

Zvereva and Davenport are former roommates in a Newport Beach apartment that was seldom occupied. This week the two are playing doubles for the first time and Thursday's match was the first time they have met in singles.

Davenport began nervously, hitting balls into the net repeatedly in the first game. She settled down and won the first set when she broke Zvereva's serve with a forehand winner. In the second set, Zvereva's deft touch was obliterated by a gusting wind and Davenport's new ability to get to drop shots.

Davenport is now reunited full time with former coach Robert Van't Hof, in whom she has found a trusted coach, a training partner and a friend.

Good thing he's not on the tour.

Acura Classic Notes

In a quarterfinal match, top-seeded Steffi Graf defeated Amy Frazier, 6-3, 6-2. In third-rounders: Anke Huber of Germany defeated Florencia Labat of Argentina, 6-1, 6-7 (7-3), 6-2; Amanda Coetzer of South Africa defeated Shi-Ting Wang of Taiwan, 6-2, 6-1, and Irina Spirlea of Romania defeated Ai Sugiyama of Japan, 6-4, 6-2.

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