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Confidence Puts Davenport on Top

Tennis: She wins her first tour title in the United States with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Huber at Manhattan Beach.

August 19, 1996|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The month of August is working out pretty well for Lindsay Davenport. It began when she won an Olympic gold medal, fulfilling a childhood dream. The middle of the month has been occupied with beating players ranked No. 1 and No. 5 in the world and, on Sunday, winning the Acura Classic at Manhattan Beach.

Today--on the strength of defeating Steffi Graf on Saturday and Anke Huber on Sunday--Davenport's ranking is projected to move from No. 10 to No. 7.

The end of the month marks the start of the U.S. Open, where Davenport will occupy a top-seeded position and bring to the tournament a load of hard-earned confidence.

"A week ago, I never thought I could win here," Davenport said after defeating Huber, 6-2, 6-3 in 61 minutes. "I knew I had a lot of confidence, but I felt a lot of pressure--I'm from here. I'm so excited to win this tournament in my hometown."

Davenport, who was born in Palos Verdes and lives in Newport Beach, won $80,000 and, more crucial to her, it was the first tour event Davenport has won in the United States.

The 20-year-old encountered little resistance from the second-seeded Huber, on a sunny and breezy day in front of 5,936 at Manhattan Country Club. Davenport dominated the match in every aspect, overpowering one of the tour's best counterpunchers.

Huber, a finalist at this year's Australian Open, screamed and berated herself during the match, but there was little she could do in the face of Davenport's confident game.

"The way she's playing, the way she's hitting the ball, I think she has the chance to be No. 1," Huber said.

Davenport's game has improved on many levels since she was reunited with longtime coach Robert Van't Hof: She's lost about 20 pounds and her movement on court is a lot faster. Her serve is consistently intimidating. Her always-potent ground strokes are now finding lines and sharp angles.

The key for Davenport is that she's winning, which fuels her confidence, which allows that game to emerge.

Davenport is also playing doubles, which has helped her tennis in general. Playing with Mary Joe Fernandez, Davenport reached the finals of the Australian Open and won the French Open.

She and Natasha Zvereva won the doubles Sunday, defeating Amy Frazier and Kimberly Po, 6-1, 6-4.

"Doubles has helped me so much," Davenport said. "It helps being in so many tight situations and overcoming that. Playing through nerves really helped me."

Fatigue was the bigger problem here. Davenport warmed up before her match against Graf Saturday, then fell asleep in the trainer's room. She did the same thing Sunday, napping for 40 minutes before the match.

Then she caught her opponent napping at the beginning of the match. Huber got off to a shaky start, winning only three points in the first three games. Huber failed to hold her first two service games; she held only once in the first set and lost her serve three times in the match by double-faulting on break point.

"I started very bad, I started slowly," Huber said. "It was four-love in five minutes, it seemed. It was tough to find a rhythm the way she's playing. She's hitting the ball deep, it's quite difficult, you don't play against players like that too often."

Huber held serve in the second game of the second set with an emphatic ace and seemed to be mounting a run. Davenport lost some of the pop in her game and fought off three break points in the third game to hold. She broke in the next game and again staved off two break points on her serve to hold and go up, 4-1. That was the end of the service breaks, and Huber's best chance to come back.

Davenport will carry this confidence into the U.S. Open.

"Going into the U.S. Open I have to expect more of myself," she said. "I'm capable of doing well. When I'm playing well, only I can beat myself. I'm going to go for my shots, I'm going to go for the lines. Some days I'm going to miss and some days I won't."

It's brash talk from the soft-spoken Davenport, but part of her new vocabulary of winning.

* SAMPRAS BACK ON TRACK: Pete Sampras withstood the blazing serves of Goran Ivanisevic to win the RCA Championships. C12

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