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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | TENNIS

Injury Forces Davenport to End Defense of Title

September 21, 2000|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

SYDNEY, Australia — The Olympic tennis show will go on without one of its main characters. Lindsay Davenport of Laguna Beach, defending champion and top-seeded here, withdrew today because of an injury to her left foot.

The departure of Davenport, who accomplished her first major achievement in tennis with her gold medal in Atlanta in 1996, contributes further to a rapidly disintegrating U.S. team.

While both Venus Williams and Monica Seles won second-round matches with ease, the U.S. men, potentially the strongest in the world with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi--both of whom chose to not play here--are now down to one singles survivor, Jeff Tarango of Manhattan Beach, No. 77 in the world.

And while American doubles teams of Alex O'Brien and Jared Palmer and Venus and Serena Williams are expected to do well, the American public, which plays lots of doubles, pretty much gauges its team's success on singles.

That makes the loss of the popular Davenport even more devastating, which, fittingly, was the word she used to describe her state of mind when she went to the practice court this morning and realized that she just couldn't get around well enough to compete.

"I went out and hit, and I just couldn't put weight on it," she said. "I went to the trainer and she said that she had pretty much done all she could for it at that stage. That's when I realized that I'd have to pull out of the tournament that has been the highlight of my career. It was devastating."

The injury is not new. Davenport had an MRI exam done on it about a month ago and struggled with it throughout the U.S. Open, where she lost to Venus Williams in the final.

"I was not worried about it when I came here to Australia," she said. "But when I played a bit, I realized that the courts here, the Rebound Ace surface, is kind of sticky and probably the worst surface I could be on with a bad foot.

"I'm not angry or bitter. I'm just sad and disappointed. Atlanta in '96 was absolutely the best moment of my career."

Since that gold medal, Davenport has gone on to win every Grand Slam event but the French Open, where the slow surface also does not suit her. Ironically, her best result this year was in Australia, where she won the Open in Melbourne in January.

The medical statement from the USOC doctor, David Walden, said that the problem area involved some metacarpal bones in her left foot, and Davenport admitted that she feared this could be serious enough to sideline her for a month or two.

"I'm sad, because ever since Atlanta ended," she said, "I've been looking forward to coming here for this."

Davenport's departure left the top half of the women's draw fairly devoid of marquee value, with fourth-seeded Conchita Martinez, a former Wimbledon champion, the best known. That means that only one American can come through to the final, since No. 2 Venus Williams and No. 3 Seles are drawn to meet in the semifinals.

Williams banged her way through a lackluster second-round match against the pride of Thailand, Tamarine Tanasugarn, who has been around the tour for awhile and has played well enough in her career to get to a couple of Grand Slam fourth rounds. But Tanasugarn, Thailand's Olympic flag-bearer at Atlanta, was no match for the streaking U.S. Open champion, who banged out a 6-2, 6-3 victory, her 28th in a row.

Seles has been equally efficient here, taking out Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-1. Seles has lost a total of three games in her first two matches.

Davenport's disastrous day followed a similar day Wednesday for two male players projected to be in the middle of the medal hunt here.

Marat Safin of Russia, who bedazzled Sampras in the recent U.S. Open final, showed he may have, indeed, been a one-day wonder by coming to the Olympics and losing in the first round to Fabrice Santoro of France, 7-6 (7), 6-2. Santoro is a good player, but you don't even mention him in the same sentence with Sampras.

Young Australian star Lleyton Hewitt suffered the same fate. After winning the U.S. Open doubles with Max Mirnyi of Belarus, he lost his first-round singles match to Mirnyi, 6-3, 6-3.

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