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An Ending That Russia Will Love

Kuznetsova and Dementieva reach Open final. Davenport, Capriati exit in tears.

September 11, 2004|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Lindsay Davenport had frolicked all summer on the tennis court without the pain in her knee or foot that had troubled her for nearly two years.

Since Wimbledon, Davenport had been sound. Her strokes, hit so hard and clean, were flawless. Her serve had become a consistent companion, winning her easy points and making the game beautiful and fun.

Until Friday.

That was the day the fun was all Russian, with two of their countrywomen advancing to the U.S. Open final for the first time, each defeating an American.

For Davenport, a groin muscle that was stiff after practice Thursday was achy after warmups Friday and became punishingly painful by the middle of her semifinal match against 19-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova, a strong, athletic opponent.

By the middle of the third set, Davenport, seeded fifth, could barely run. By the end of the match, a teary Davenport limped off Arthur Ashe Stadium saddened by her 1-6, 6-2, 6-4 loss -- not because her chances of winning a second Open were gone or because her 22-match win streak had ended, but because her body didn't allow her the chance to play her best.

In the other semifinal, Jennifer Capriati had the greatest moment of her life waiting. All she needed to do was settle down as she served for the match at 6-5. Or gather her courage and go for a winner here and there, or attack Elena Dementieva's second serve -- a cockeyed, wildly spinning offering -- instead of steering it safely up the middle of the court.

But she didn't. Capriati, seeded eighth and embraced loudly from start to finish by the crowd, again fell short of a U.S. Open final. She lost, 6-0, 2-6, 7-6 (5), to sixth-seeded Dementieva, whose thigh was heavily taped and whose serve seemed held together by string.

So, for the first time since 1988, there will be no Americans playing in the singles finals of the U.S. Open. And, for the second time this year, a Grand Slam women's final will be between two Russian women -- and for the third time won by a Russian.

Dementieva, 22, played Anastasia Myskina in the French Open championship and fared badly. She took less than an hour to lose in straight sets because she could hardly place a first serve in the box. Siberian-born Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon and now the U.S. Open will feature a Russian champion.

Capriati is now 0-4 in Open semifinals and for the third time she lost in a third-set tiebreaker. Last year, it was to a cramping Justine Henin-Hardenne; in 1991 it was after a power-hitting duel against Monica Seles.

As in 1991, Capriati cried Friday, sobbing into the shoulder of her mother, Denise, in the locker room after the 2-hour 15-minute match.

"It's kind of hard to really grasp kind of what happened out there," Capriati said.

She is 28 and without a U.S. Open title, the one she has always coveted most.

"It's disappointing," Capriati said. "But, you know, life goes on. What can you do?"

In the first set, not much. Capriati won only five points, hit no winners and was blanked in 17 minutes.

But in the second set Capriati harnessed her shots, and if the match wasn't filled with great shot-making or strategy, it did become a fascinating battle with several elongated points, including one 49-stroke rally.

"At the end of the game I was so tired there was no place for nerves," Dementieva said.

It was Dementieva who usually tried to make something happen, either by coming to the net or aiming for a corner. That aggressiveness led to Dementieva's hitting more winners than Capriati -- 44 to 15 -- and also making more unforced errors -- 53 to 33.

Davenport's voice was still quavering an hour after her loss. "I'm fine to lose," she said. "I'm just disappointed that I didn't get the opportunity to either win or lose at 100%."

After racing through a 21-minute first set by controlling points with her well-placed serve, Davenport began grimacing and tugging at her thigh instead of chasing every Kuznetsova ball.

Davenport called for the trainer after the second set and left the court to have her left thigh more heavily taped.

"I was pretty bummed between sets," she said. "When I started the match I was confident."

As her injury got worse, she said her confidence dipped.

Davenport grabbed a 3-0 lead to start the third set, but her hobbling only increased.

After it was over, Davenport seemed less certain about retiring.

It was a stark contrast from her remarks after losing to Sharapova in a Wimbledon semifinal this year, when Davenport had said it was "unlikely" she would be back in London next summer.

Her success leading up to the Open changed her mind.

"It's been a wonderful last few months and I've enjoyed competing very well," Davenport said. "This isn't going to be the nail in the coffin. I don't need surgery, and I don't have to be out for months and months. I thought I had a great opportunity here. If I feel like I have a great opportunity and can challenge for the title in Australia, I'll go. If I feel like, 'OK, maybe I'm not totally into it,' it's going to be tough."

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