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Serve lets Davenport down in 6-1, 7-6 loss

August 30, 2008|Chuck Culpepper | Special to The Times

NEW YORK -- Absurdly, after 947 tour matches, after 55 singles titles, after giving birth and coming back, after 18 long, competent years serving into that square on the other side of the net in tour events, Lindsay Davenport on Friday night ran across her first case of the serving yips.

Arthur Ashe Stadium seemed to squirm, and pretty soon the woman departing her comeback U.S. Open by throwing her racket to the concrete on her way to the handshake would be not some hothead but, of all people, Lindsay Davenport.

"I just never felt comfortable out there," she said.

Serving at 5-5 in her 6-1, 7-6 (3) loss to 13th-ranked Marion Bartoli of France, having just fended off a match point in the 5-3 game by striking a protesting ace, Davenport began by double-faulting for love-15. Then she double-faulted for love-30. Next, she double-faulted for love-40.

She walked around in a little circle, placed a hand on a hip. How could this be after all this time? And while she made a second serve and fought back to three deuces, she double-faulted again -- net, net -- to lose the game.

"I've never had what I guess they call the 'yips' on your serve," she said. "I don't know where it came from. Probably came from all my years making fun of people that had it. That was my karma coming back."

While she managed to break Bartoli's serve in the 12th game, the gutted confidence leaked into her groundstrokes, and soon in the tiebreaker she plunked a forehand into the net, threw the racket aside, touched hands with Bartoli, shook her head at a TV interview request, grabbed her large red bag, walked off and waved to an ovation just before the tunnel.

Her future? "All I know is I have doubles at 2:30 tomorrow," she said.

Without yips, she might've made a run through an ever-opening draw. With No. 1 Ana Ivanovic gone and No. 5 Maria Sharapova absent, the summer of haywire in the women's game persisted on Friday when No. 3-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova fell to No. 28-seeded Katarina Srebotnik of Slovakia, 6-3, 6-7 (1), 6-3.

No. 2 Jelena Jankovic squeaked past 37th-ranked Wimbledon semifinalist Jie Zheng, 7-5, 7-5, closing by winning an 11-deuce game, and No. 6 Elena Dementieva sustained her chance to climb through the wreckage all the way to No. 1, reaching the fourth round with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Anne Keothavong of Great Britain.

Fans of form had the men's second round, where No. 2 Roger Federer rushed the net 42 times (winning 24 of the points) and beat Brazilian qualifier Thiago Alves, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4; No. 3 Novak Djokovic negated two set points in winning 7-6 (8), 6-4, 6-4 over American Robert Kendrick, who said, "I was just pretty much surprised how fast he was," and even the long-absent 2008 Australian Open finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, back from injury, thoroughly entertained the Grandstand patrons in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 win over Carlos Moya.

Even No. 8 Andy Roddick won, 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 7-5, in a rugged Friday night fight with Latvian Ernests Gulbis, who turns 20 today and at times displayed a fearsome array of shots both powerful and delicate.

Such an array doesn't really factor in with Bartoli, the 2007 Wimbledon finalist with the limited mobility, the halting service motion and the Monica Seles-style two-handed whack from both sides.

But at 23, she said, "I think I was in better shape than her," and she set about dismantling Davenport such that when the Laguna Beach resident finally won a game at 1-6, 0-2, she raised her hands in mock-exultation.

Painstakingly, Davenport climbed back in, only to encounter the inconceivable yips, leading to a most unfitting exit for the 1998 champion, who on possibly her last walk out of that stadium felt zero sentimentality and said she was so upset she "didn't think about anything."

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Featured matches

Today at the U.S. Open. World rankings in parentheses:

* James Blake (9) vs. Mardy Fish, United States (35) -- Here's that rare match in which one player (Blake) will be a groomsman in the upcoming wedding of the opponent (Fish). The question is whether a Blake victory might mean a demotion in the order of groomsmen.

* Venus Williams (8) vs. Alona Bondarenko, Ukraine (31) -- Each player has a younger sister in the top 50, but Bondarenko also has an older sister who reached No. 189 in doubles in 2004. That makes Alona the Jan Brady of the Bondarenkos.

* Sam Querrey (55) vs. Ivo Karlovic, Croatia (14) -- In the Leverage Bowl, the tower of Thousand Oaks, at 6 feet 6, runs across the more towering tower of Zagreb, 6 feet 10.

-- Chuck Culpepper

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