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They Have Pluck of Draw

Davenport, Seles overcame adversity to set up their meeting in the first round.

November 06, 2002|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Close friends Monica Seles and Lindsay Davenport have shared plenty of memories through their long-and-winding careers -- Fed Cup victories, playing one another in the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2000 and meeting in four tournament finals. They've met in competition 11 times, Davenport having won nine times. They even have the same agent.

Their first-round match in the Home Depot WTA Championships tonight at Staples Center, however, has different implications. For one thing, the presence of Davenport and the sixth-seeded Seles in the season finale was hardly a sure thing at the start of 2002.

Then, the tournament was scheduled for Munich and Seles has been steadfast in her refusal to play in Germany since her 1993 stabbing in Hamburg. Davenport required surgery in January for a potential career-ending knee injury. She was sidelined until July and qualified for the $3-million event with an ambitious schedule, playing three consecutive indoor events in Europe. Though Davenport made the 16-player singles field, she is unseeded and could have landed in the draw next to No. 1 Serena Williams or No. 2 Venus Williams.

"I knew I was going to get a tough draw in the position of not being seeded," Davenport said. "Obviously, I hoped not to play one of the Williams [sisters] in the first round. Even Monica, I think that's a tough draw. There would have been some other players I would have much rather preferred to play."

Seles has been training in Los Angeles with her coach, Mike Sell, for about a month, off the circuit, in part, because of a foot problem. She lost to Eleni Daniilidou of Greece in the semifinals at Bahia, Brazil, in September and has not played a match since then.

"I've always played well indoors," Seles said. "I like it. I always played well at the Championships in New York, so hopefully I can continue that momentum here. I'm a little bit nervous because I haven't played any tournaments a couple of months leading into it, but to go to Europe for one or two tournaments, I didn't want to do it."

Davenport has struggled with an injured shin and resumed practicing at full speed only a few days ago.

Though the Davenport-Seles match is the marquee pairing of the tournament's first night -- combined they have 12 Grand Slam titles, nine for Seles, three for Davenport -- Venus Williams could face a difficult test against Patty Schnyder of Switzerland. Williams has not lost to Schnyder in four matches but has played only once since losing in the U.S. Open final to her younger sister Serena. In the day session, fourth-seeded Justine Henin of Belgium opens against 2000 semifinalist Elena Dementieva of Russia, followed by No. 5 Kim Clijsters of Belgium against Chanda Rubin. Henin has not lost to Dementieva in two matches, and Clijsters is 2-0 against Rubin. Rubin, however, is the only player to have defeated Serena Williams since Williams lost to Henin in the final of the German Open in early May.

The season-ending event moved to Los Angeles after a year in Germany. It had previously been held in New York since 1979. Certainly, continuity is going to be important in educating the public, Davenport said. And, admittedly, there is some confusion about the status of the tournament in the overall picture. Qualification starts with the first tournament in January, and the race to the championships is not determined by the rankings, which are used by the Grand Slams and WTA tournaments for seeding purposes.

"The mind-set of tennis, in the United States anyway, is that it kind of ends at the [U.S] Open," Davenport said. "It's trying to educate all the tennis fans, that we play all these tournaments indoors to build toward the end-of-year tournament.

"Obviously, it takes any tournament awhile to grow its fan base and get it roots down and get the public to understand what it is -- that it's our fifth major. They probably don't understand it. The fans in New York did. We were there [more than] 20 years.

"But when you keep moving it around, it's hard for the local fans to know what it is. A lot of people will say, 'I'm going to Staples Center, not quite sure what it is and who is playing.' That's when you've got to establish a foundation and keep it here a number of years. The first few years will be the toughest years, but hopefully you get through those and get it bigger and bigger as the years go on."


Veteran Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario of Spain, who was heckled and driven to tears by a fan during the Fed Cup final in the Canary Islands against Slovakia, has withdrawn because of an injured thigh. Slovakia beat Spain, 3-1, to win its first Fed Cup title, and Sanchez-Vicario had been scheduled to play doubles with Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia in Los Angeles. Replacing them are Katarina Srebotnik and Tina Krizan of Slovenia.


First-round matches at the WTA Championships at Staples Center:

12:30 P.M. -- Elena Dementieva, Russia vs. Justine Henin (Belgium) followed by Kim Clijsters (Belgium) vs. Chanda Rubin.

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