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Davenport rips into semifinals

Posted: Thursday, September 09, 2004

NEW YORK With win after win, all of Lindsay Davenport's talk about retirement sounds more and more premature.

Now she's two victories from a second U.S. Open title and the No. 1 ranking.

After waiting out a day of rain, Davenport beat Shinobu Asagoe of Japan 6-1, 6-1 in just 46 minutes Wednesday night to reach the Open's semifinals in a match that began with about 100 people in the seats at 9,645-capacity Louis Armstrong Stadium.

At least she finished: The ballyhooed showdown between two-time champion Andre Agassi and No. 1 Roger Federer was stopped by showers in the first game of the fourth set, with Federer ahead 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. No. 5 Tim Henman led No. 22 Dominik Hrbaty 6-1, 7-5, 4-5 when their quarterfinal was interrupted. The matches were scheduled to resume Thursday.

''It's not a total shock to tennis players that we have to go through this,'' Davenport said. ''At this point, I just didn't care if there were 100 people there or 10 people, I just wanted to play.''

After a couple of seasons marred by assorted injuries, four years since her last appearance in a Grand Slam final, and now 28 and married, Davenport spoke earnestly at Wimbledon about quitting the sport.

Since losing to Maria Sharapova in the semifinals at the All England Club, though, Davenport has won 22 matches in a row, with four titles.

''I'm in a great position. I've done everything that I could possibly do to be ready to play here and do well,'' Davenport said, ''and now you just see what happens.''

Her match was supposed to start at 11 a.m. in Arthur Ashe Stadium, but steady showers delayed the beginning until 7:29 p.m. That forced organizers to shift the schedule, with four quarterfinals two men's and two women's in action simultaneously around the National Tennis Center.

Davenport's next opponent is No. 9 Svetlana Kuznetsova, who defeated No. 14 Nadia Petrova 7-6 (4), 6-3. It means both women's semifinals will be United States vs. Russia: No. 8 Jennifer Capriati meets No. 6 Elena Dementieva in the other.

''I don't have much publicity, I am not Sharapova,'' Kuznetsova said. ''People do not know me as much. They look in the paper and see Kuznetsova and say, 'She's seeded, she must be good.'''

Only two dozen fans made the trek across the grounds to Court 11 for the start of the quarterfinal between Kuznetsova and Petrova. It was so empty that when Petrova slapped the strings of her racket after a missed shot, it sounded like a violin it was that easy to hear.

Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, was among those watching the two Russian women play.

''It's like when you go scout a kid at a high school game or in the summer leagues, there aren't a whole lot of people there,'' he said. ''It's an interesting environment to see a match that means so much.''

Davenport got to the grounds around 9 a.m. She spent the day trying to sleep, doing crossword puzzles, visiting with family and eating.

And when it was time to play, she was ready.

Davenport won the first four games of the match, then went ahead 3-0 in the second set. She finished with a 16-3 edge in winners and never faced a break point while extending her winning streak to 22 matches.

Davenport had more trouble with the fans drifting into the seats.

''They just kind of kept coming right when I was in the line of my toss,'' she said. ''I just asked if they could maybe bring some more ushers out, even if there weren't that many people.''

Davenport's three Grand Slam titles include the 1998 U.S. Open, and she is trying to become the first woman to go six years between championships at the same major.

She won four consecutive hard-court tuneup tournaments before coming to Flushing Meadows. If she captures the Open title, Davenport would move up from No. 4 in the rankings to No. 1 and replace 2003 champion Justine Henin-Hardenne, who lost to Petrova in the fourth round. Otherwise, Amelie Mauresmo, who lost in the quarterfinals, will take the top spot.

Davenport, who already had brief stays at No. 1, in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2002, completely dominated No. 62 Asagoe, the lowest-ranked quarterfinalist at the Open since No. 66 Venus Williams made it all the way to the final in her Open debut at age 17.

Davenport has made it to at least the semifinals at the Open seven of the past eight years.

Agassi, meanwhile, reached the quarterfinals for the 12th time in his 19th consecutive appearance. At 34, who knows how much longer he'll play, though he made it clear last week that he's not planning to retire after the Open.

In the first set against Federer, Agassi seemed a step slow, while Federer broke out quickly with three aces at up to 128 mph in the opening game. Agassi held his own in long rallies until sailing a forehand wide after a long rally to get broken to 4-2.

Federer ran his ace count to seven with two in the next game to take a 5-2 lead. Agassi saved two set points and held serve to 5-3, but Federer put the 30-minute set away with service winners on the last two points.

The second set and much of the third, though, were completely different.

Agassi moved much better, attacked Federer's backhand effectively, pushed forward to the net more, and began gaining the measure of his foe's serve. Over the first five games of the second set, Agassi had zero count 'em, zero unforced errors.

Agassi fell behind love-30 to start the second set, then went on a tear, winning 13 straight and 24 of the next 27 points on his serve as he built a 3-0 edge. Aided by a double-fault, Agassi broke to end the second set, using a backhand to the corner to set up a cross-court forehand winner that prompted a standing ovation.

But he played another poor game to get broken to 6-5 in the third, with a double-fault and a running backhand into the net. Federer closed out the set with three service winners, the last at 130 mph that clanged off Agassi's frame and landed three rows behind him.

Heavy rain returned with Agassi serving at deuce to start the fourth set. After 1 hour, 40 minutes of waiting, Agassi, Federer and the fans were sent home.



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