Lindsay Davenport was flipping through a London newspaper a few days before Wimbledon when she saw a list of odds on who would win the tournament. On the women's side, the favorite was Martina Hingis. Steffi Graf was next. Davenport scrolled down until she saw her name, next to 15-1 odds.
"My coach said, `I'm going to put a thousand pounds on that -- that's crazy odds,' " Davenport said. "He never did it, but we were laughing about it."
If Davenport's coach had followed his instincts, he would have been a step closer to a major jackpot today when Davenport advanced to her first Wimbledon final with a 6-1, 6-1 pounding of 18-year-old qualifier Alexandra Stevenson. The bookmakers weren't totally wrong -- Graf reached the final today with a 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 6-3 win over 17-year-old Mirjana Lucic -- but no matter the outcome of Sunday's match, Davenport will rise to No. 1 when the new world rankings come out Monday.
It will be Davenport's second stint at the top. She finished last year ranked No. 1 but lost the spot in February to Hingis, who lost in Round 1 here.
"I actually didn't think about the number one ranking until I got back in the locker room, and I was talking to the trainer and was like, `Oh, my gosh, I got it,' " said Davenport, who let out a joyous yelp after match point for "winning number one and getting to my first Wimbledon final and doing it on a surface I used to hate."
Her semifinal match was billed as a battle of hard-hitting Southern Californians, but Stevenson, who had blazed her way through this tournament with an easygoing attitude and a hard serve, showed her inexperience against the 23-year-old Davenport, the defending U.S. Open champion. Stevenson opened the match by losing 11 consecutive points, and had just two aces, compared to the 15 she racked up in the quarterfinal.
"I was rushing everything," Stevenson said. "She's definitely on a different level. She plays to her potential on every point, and some of the others -- like me -- don't and go off a little sometimes. I just learned that when I get to play the top three or five players, I have to be on during every single point and ready to go."
Lucic was less intimidated by her veteran opponent, pushing Graf's service game throughout the first set before winning the tiebreaker with groundstrokes that outmuscled Graf's famous forehands. The pair stayed even in the second set until 4-4, but Graf then broke open the match by winning five straight games. Graf's victory gives her the chance to claim her 23rd Grand Slam title and her second this year; she won the French Open last month by upsetting Hingis.
"Experience is always important," said Graf, 30. "But the way [Lucic] was going for her shots, she really took a lot of risks. It didn't seem like she was getting nervous at any stage, and that's very impressive to me."
Davenport gave similar praise to Stevenson, the first qualifier to appear in a women's semifinal at Wimbledon. Calling Stevenson "the nicest girl," Davenport said she was impressed that Stevenson managed to go so far here despite distractions that included controversial comments by her mother, Samantha, and the revelation that her father is NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving.
But Davenport also took issue with some of Samantha Stevenson's comments, which included allegations of racism on the WTA tour and the need to "protect Alexandra from the other girls."
"Obviously some of the comments she's made in the past few weeks -- I'm not sure if she's doing it for attention or just saying these things -- they sound crazy," Davenport said. "I just don't think we appreciate her commenting on our way of life. She's calling all of us almost a name in some way, and I just think she should let her daughter play."
Samantha Stevenson attended Alexandra's postmatch news conference but declined to comment on Davenport's remarks. But Alexandra defended her mother.
"Whatever comments my mom has made, she is my mother and I think she is right and that it hasn't clouded anything," she said.
CAPTION: Third-seeded Lindsay Davenport exults after routing Alexandra Stevenson to reach her first Wimbledon final.
CAPTION: Alexandra Stevenson, the first qualifier to reach the women's semifinals at Wimbledon, exits to a round of applause.