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She's No. 1 the Old-Fashioned Way

October 12, 1998|LISA DILLMAN

The tennis world never heard Lindsay Davenport of Newport Beach proclaim she was going to be No. 1, not when she was 16, 18 or 22. Even when she crept close to No. 1-ranked Martina Hingis, winning three consecutive hard-court tournaments in August, Davenport said her primary focus was winning the U.S. Open, not supplanting Hingis.

Which is why her ascension to the top spot in women's tennis--it becomes official on Monday when the latest WTA rankings are released, despite her loss in the final Sunday at Filderstadt, Germany--is not a hollow honor for a couple of reasons.

* The Grand Slam factor: Davenport has won a Grand Slam event, the U.S. Open, and reached the semifinals of three other Slams. Marcelo Rios, currently No. 3 in the men's rankings, reached the No. 1 spot on two occasions this year and is still looking for his first Grand Slam title. He has been in one Slam final (the Australian Open in January) and the quarterfinals of three others.

* The incumbent factor: Rios never had to beat Pete Sampras to reach No. 1. In fact, he has not played Sampras in 1998. Davenport has defeated Hingis three of four times this year, including the U.S. Open final in straight sets.

Hingis, who held the top spot for 80 weeks, fell from the top spot when she lost to Dominique Van Roost at Filderstadt on Friday. Hours later, Davenport won her quarterfinal match against Nathalie Tauziat and that would have been enough to make her No. 1, even if Hingis had won.

"You work your whole life to try to be the best you can, even if it's for only one day or one week," said Davenport, the first American-born female player to become No. 1 since November 1985, when Chris Evert was top-ranked for the last time in her career.

"It's a great feeling. I'm going to have to play well to stay there. I think it's going to go back and forth."

Actually, that may be the case because Davenport lost in Sunday's final. However, Davenport's two closest challengers are out with injuries. Hingis injured her ankle jogging before a match last week and withdrew from the Zurich event, which starts today. Jana Novotna hurt her back in Filderstadt and retired in the third set against Serena Williams and could be out for as long as a month.

The next time Hingis and Davenport are scheduled to be in the same tournament is at Philadelphia, Nov. 9-15. Only seven other players have held the No. 1 ranking since the computer system started in 1975--Steffi Graf (374 total weeks), Martina Navratilova (331), Evert (262), Monica Seles (178), Hingis (80), Tracy Austin (24) and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (12).


The United States might be having a hard time getting its top male players to show up for Davis Cup, but things are slightly better among the women when it comes to Fed Cup.

This year, Monica Seles played in both matches for the United States and Davenport took part in the one round. Now, Venus Williams said at the recent Grand Slam Cup in Munich that she would like to play in at least one round of Fed Cup in 1999, possibly two.

As for the 1999 Davis Cup draw last week, it is somehow appropriate that the United States is playing Great Britain in the first round on April 2-4 in England. It will be the 100th year of Cup play, and the competition began with the United States playing the British Isles at the Longwood Cricket Club in Boston in 1900.

The surface will be a quick carpet indoors, and the front-runner for the site appears to be Manchester. Other venues mentioned include Wembley Arena, Birmingham and Newcastle.


Sampras is doing everything he can to finish No. 1 for an unprecedented sixth consecutive year--which would break his tie with Jimmy Connors--and is so motivated he will end up playing in Europe for five straight weeks.

If it happens, give Boris Becker a subtle assist.

Sampras, upset at having lost in the first round at Basel, Switzerland, planned on heading back to the United States. But he slept on it and called another player, asking him for his wild card at this week's event in Vienna.

It was Becker.

Becker, understanding the chase of history, graciously gave his wild card to Sampras.

Wonder if Becker, a hoop fan, will be spotted courtside someday--post-lockout--at a Laker game, courtesy Sampras?


* "I'd have to say Sampras, Sampras, Sampras, Sampras, Sampras."--Agassi on the five all-time best players.

* "You've got to make sure you can deliver when you give an auction item. I wouldn't be able to deliver on that one."--Agassi on whether his recent charity event included a travel package to see him playing Davis Cup in 1999.


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