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Davenport Eases Surface Tension

June 01, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Look, Lindsay Davenport said. Clay is not her best surface. She doesn't much like it. Davenport is almost 6 feet 3, her feet do not step quickly no matter how well she trains, how much weight she loses.

Were she to win the French Open, Davenport says, "I'd be amazed."

This is not the attitude of a winner. Except Davenport has proven she's a winner throughout a career in which she has been written off as too heavy, too ungainly and too pessimistic.

So here Davenport is, owner of three Grand Slam titles but willing to say of tennis at Roland Garros: "It's a difficult style of game for me to play. It's not very suitable to my style of game."

Davenport, seeded sixth, was saying this after she had advanced to the fourth round of the French Open with a 6-3, 7-5 win over France's Nathalie Dechy, seeded 25th. This is where Dechy is most comfortable, slipping and sliding on the red clay, and where Davenport, 26, is prone to frowns and scowls as the power of her smooth stroke is swallowed by the dirt and where she feels as if she's pulling a tank behind her, so slow does the game become.

"I've got to get off to a good hit in the point," Davenport said, "keep the points relatively short here. The longer the points go, I don't think it's necessarily to my benefit."

So Davenport swings away, going for winners and hoping to find that her serve is working.

She will need all her skills in the fourth round when 31-year-old Conchita Martinez, master of spins, slices and clay, is the opponent. The Spaniard, seeded 24th, beat Tina Pisnik of Slovenia 6-3, 6-3, to qualify for her 14th appearance in the fourth round.

Two of the more popular choices to win the title also moved ahead easily Saturday.

Kim Clijsters, seeded second, beat No. 30 Paola Suarez of Argentina, 6-2, 6-1, and third-seeded Venus Williams, who had struggled through a three-set match in the second round, needed only 52 minutes to eliminate 26th-seeded Silvia Farina Elia, 6-1, 6-2.

Also advancing smoothly into the fourth round was seventh-seeded Jennifer Capriati, a 6-1, 6-2 winner over 19-year-old French Open rookie Julia Vakulenko, a qualifier from Ukraine.

Davenport needed the attention of the trainer after the fifth game of the second set to tend to the fourth toe of her left foot. "The nerve in my foot, I've been struggling with it for about a month," Davenport said. "[The pain] comes up through the one toe. I've got good days and I've got some bad days."

But this day wasn't bad enough for Davenport to feel the pain for long.

She got the critical service break in the 11th game of the second set and was able to serve out the match. This wasn't easy.

Davenport fell behind, 0-40, after waiting for what seemed minutes to swat an easy backhand wide instead of anywhere in the open court while Dechy watched in amazement. After a cleansing scream, Davenport served back-to-back winners. Dechy hit a backhand wide, Davenport tallied another service winner and won the match when Dechy sent a forehand wide.

"My serve has been so bad here," Davenport said. "I just started laughing today. At love-40 I started to finally hit some good first serves. I'm happy I hung in there to keep trying."

Williams said she "definitely played better" than in the second round. "Definitely better rhythm," she said, "definitely serving better." Definitely a happier Venus, who said the stomach muscle she pulled three weeks ago is not bothering her.

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