When you are 18 years old, six months seems like forever and one win can change everything. For Martina Hingis, today's 7-5, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2 victory over Lindsay Davenport in the final of the Chase Championships was that kind of win, a relief and a statement.

The young woman who noted today that she had been inordinately successful "since juniors" had been grasping for confidence lately, but with her first title since May, she was able to end the WTA season feeling like a champion.

"It was about time for me, just to show people that I am able to win a big tournament," said Hingis, who accepted a $500,000 check in front of an enthusiastic Madison Square Garden crowd. "And also to show myself, because if you keep losing to some of the players, then you walk around and you know they always feel like they have a chance against you. But now that I was able to beat Mary Pierce {earlier in the tournament} and Lindsay today, it was a great effort."

With 80 weeks as the tour's top-ranked player before Davenport knocked her to No. 2 last month, Hingis made it clear both during the match and afterward that she wants the No. 1 spot back as soon as the tour resumes in January. She was in control for most of the afternoon, trailing only in the third set, and before the trophy presentation, Hingis made a special stop at Davenport's courtside chair. Hingis later said she congratulated her opponent on ending the year No. 1 but also reminded her that she intends to "keep up" in the rankings race after finishing just 266 points back this season.

If this year was any indication, that race will be more than a two-participant affair. Four players won Grand Slam titles this year, including old-guard members Jana Novotna (Wimbledon) and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (French Open). Venus Williams won the Lipton, the season's other big tournament, and Steffi Graf made a pointed statement toward the end of the season by winning twice and reaching the semifinals here. Hingis claimed the Australian Open and the Chase titles, and Davenport claimed No. 1 and won the U.S. Open.

Today's meeting was a rematch of the U.S. Open final, and Hingis appeared much more aggressive than she was in September. Davenport looked sluggish at times, perhaps tired after playing a three-set match against Graf on Saturday afternoon and winning the doubles title with Natasha Zvereva in three sets that night. The Chase final is the only best-of-five match the women play all season.

"She had played a great, tough match with Steffi and also had to play doubles, so I knew the more we had to stay on the court, the better it was for me," Hingis said. "When you go into a match like this, you know it is the last match of the year. You know you are going to have to play those sets, so it is different tactically. Whoever is in better shape at the end of the year can make it to the end."

Hingis was able to break Davenport early in the first set, but Davenport broke right back. A series of long games followed, and Hingis was able to break Davenport again to win the set, 7-5. She won the second set by again breaking Davenport in the final game, and by then she had firm control of the match. Davenport couldn't take advantage of several opportunities to break Hingis in that set, and though Davenport won the third set comfortably, she was broken at love in the fourth game of the fourth set and was unable to recover.

"In the second set, the {missed break points} were really the telling factor," Davenport said. "I think at least every one of her service games I had one break point, numerous break points, and I wasn't able to capitalize. Today on the big points I just played badly and sometimes that happens. Hopefully if I get a chance to play her again, I can close games out a little bit better and put some more pressure on her serve."

Tennis Notes: While accepting their trophies, both Davenport and Hingis mentioned the WTA tour's lack of a sponsor for next season. Corel, a computer software company that has been the tour's name sponsor for four years, has decided not to renew its contract.

"Right now we have four well-qualified, well-financed international companies that have responded favorably to our presentations, and they are all in the final stages of analyzing the sponsorship package," tour CEO Bart McGuire said. "What this means is that there is absolutely unprecedented interest in the tour sponsorship, but no one has put money on the table yet. I wish they had. It is very late now and later than I anticipated."

McGuire said he hoped to name a new sponsor by the end of the year, although he also said the tour could function without a sponsor if necessary, noting the organization brought in $14 million in 1998. In a state-of-the-WTA speech this morning, McGuire also addressed several other issues, including the possibility of uniting the Chase Championships with the ATP's season-ending event.

McGuire also said the WTA schedule will be reduced by two or three weeks over the next two years and that there will be changes concerning injury timeouts and bathroom breaks. Trainers will be able to treat players during changeovers less often, and the length of injury timeouts will be reduced. Referees will have more discretion over bathroom breaks, which some players have been accused of abusing in order to change the momentum of matches. CAPTION: After winning Chase title, second-ranked Martina Hingis says: "It was about time for me, just to show people that I am able to win a big tournament." ec