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It's No. 1 Heat at Indian Wells

Top-seeded Henin-Hardenne's attention to her game remains on the beam in 6-1, 6-4 victory over Davenport.

March 22, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

The result was pretty much a foregone conclusion Sunday in the desert, when two players from different times matched up in the women's finals of the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament.

Justine Henin-Hardenne, 21, the Belgian who is No. 1 player in the world, is now.

Lindsay Davenport, 27, the American who is No. 4, used to be.

So, there were few who watched in the stifling heat in Indian Wells who were stunned at Henin-Hardenne's 6-1, 6-4 victory, or at a statistical dominance that included 29 winners to 17 for Davenport and even nine of 10 points won at the net.

Said Henin-Hardenne, "I did everything I had to do."

Said Davenport, "Today, I lost to a far better player."

Henin-Hardenne has won the last two Grand Slam tournaments, the U.S. Open and the Australian, and three of the last four, taking her first major at the French last year. The only interruption to her run was Serena Williams' Wimbledon title.

Davenport also has won three majors, plus a 1996 gold medal in the Atlanta Olympics, but her last was the 2000 Australian. Since then, she has remained one of the top players in the game but has seemed unable to get past the new wave of top-echelon players, from the Williams sisters to the Belgians, Kim Clijsters and Henin-Hardenne.

Henin-Hardenne has a single-minded focus right now that is almost frightening.

After several years of being the slightly built top-10 player who was the other Belgian in the shadow of Clijsters, she has bulked up a bit, vastly improved her fitness and figured out how to win.

"I was feeling two or three years ago that I would never be at [the top players' level]," she said. "I needed something more to be really in the top three and then to become No. 1. I just started to believe in myself, I decided to change my attitude, just believe in my tennis."

She was asked if she ever felt it was all right to lose, even if she played her absolutely best tennis.

"No," she said.

She is not playing in the next tour event, the women's Tier I event at Miami that is a mirror image of this coed major, played alongside a men's Tennis Masters Series event.

She said she is not playing because her plan is to go home to Florida to start training on clay for the upcoming French Open. She and her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, and trainer Pat Etcheberry have a schedule, and there will be no deviations. It is a steely focus.

Davenport is not going to Miami either, but her reasons are less the result of competitive focus and more a decision of lifestyle.

"I'm going home," she said, indicating that the only way she would have done the Indian Wells-Miami back-to-back was if she had lost early in this tournament. She also talked about having trouble acclimating to the wind and humidity in Miami, about getting injured a lot there and about wanting to take a trip with husband Jon Leach for their wedding anniversary.

The 6-1 first set was achieved in 33 minutes, and even though Davenport broke service to go up 2-0 in the second, the only drama in the match took place in the last game.

Davenport served at 4-5. The fans, rooting hard for her out of nationalism, localism (she is from Laguna Beach) and a desire to see more tennis, spurred her on. The game included three pinpoint lobs by Henin-Hardenne, a handful of nicely placed drop shots by both players and four saved match points by Davenport.

By the time they got to the fifth match point, both players were clearly feeling the effects of heat that reached 116 degrees on the court. And so, when Henin-Hardenne forced Davenport well to her left with her service return, it opened up the court for the Belgian to stroke a forehand cross court into that opening for the match.

Henin-Hardenne won $332,000 for her title, and her news conference underscored that her focus is to keep right on collecting.

"I'm a better fighter now than I was in the past," she said, jaw set, eyes piercing the room. "I know the impossible is nothing for me now."

Davenport, who has already won close to $17 million in prize money in her career, won $163,000 more for her runner-up finish.

In her news conference, she smiled, was upbeat on all subjects and said, "I actually don't feel that disappointed. I feel I tried my hardest."

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Women's Champions

A look at the Indian Wells women's champions:

*--* YEAR WINNER RUNNER-UP SCORE 2004 J. Henin-Hardenne Lindsay Davenport 6-1, 6-4 2003 Kim Clijsters Lindsay Davenport 6-4, 7-5 2002 Daniela Hantuchova Martina Hingis 6-3, 6-4 2001 Serena Williams Kim Clijsters 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 2000 Lindsay Davenport Martina Hingis 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 1999 Serena Williams Steffi Graf 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 1998 Martina Hingis Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 6-4 1997 Lindsay Davenport Irina Spirlea 6-2, 6-1 1996 Steffi Graf Conchita Martinez 7-6, 7-6 1995 Mary Joe Fernandez Natasha Zvereva 6-4, 6-3 1994 Steffi Graf Amanda Coetzer 6-0, 6-4 1993 Mary Joe Fernandez Amanda Coetzer 3-6, 6-1, 7-6 1992 Monica Seles Conchita Martinez 6-3, 6-1 1991 Martina Navratilova Monica Seles 6-2, 7-6 1990 Martina Navratilova Helena Sukova 6-2, 5-7, 6-1 1989 Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere Jenny Byrne 6-4, 6-1

*--*

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