A white bandage wrapped around the upper left thigh was the accessory of choice tonight at the Chase Championships, where Lindsay Davenport overcame a hamstring injury to defeat Amelie Mauresmo, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, and Venus Williams almost allowed an equally hindered Conchita Martinez to wreck her Madison Square Garden debut.
Williams eventually triumphed, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, but not before struggling first with Martinez's passing shots and then with the Spaniard's slow, twisty serves, made more erratic by a hamstring and lower back injury suffered early in the third set.
"Conchita was hitting the ball better than what she's hit in other matches--I don't know why," Williams said. "I didn't expect such a tough match. I haven't gone three sets in a long time. Usually when I get in a tough second set, I'm able to pull it out."
Neither Williams nor anyone else had reason to expect Martinez to rally after being dominated so thoroughly in the first set, but both players struggled to hold their serves in the second set. The crucial break came with the score tied at 5, after Williams had already gone up 40-0. Martinez stormed back to win the game, and she won the set by holding her serve.
But as the match wore on, Martinez's pain increased, and a WTA Tour trainer outfitted her with a thigh wrap during an injury timeout and massaged during subsequent changeovers. Williams took advantage in the final game, breaking Martinez to win the match.
Williams is hoping to have an easier time from now on now that sister Serena has withdrawn with a back injury. Serena's absence is "good for everyone--they don't have to worry about fighting Serena," she said. "She's tough. Little sisters are mean. And it does open the draw up for Lindsay. I'm sure she wasn't looking forward to playing Serena."
Davenport, who wouldn't have met Serena until the semifinals, was more concerned today with her health, which was shaky after she pulled her left hamstring during her finals win over Martina Hingis in Philadelphia last week. She still looked uncomfortable when she came onto the court tonight, her thigh already wrapped. Mauresmo, on the other hand, was practically bouncing out of her white sneakers, and she quickly shot out to a 5-1 lead.
Davenport found herself down two set points in the seventh game before she finally started to perk up, and although she lost the first set, 3-6, she looked sharper in the second, winning the first game. She then asked to see a trainer during the next changeover.
"I was a little bit upset toward the end of the first set, thinking 'Is this how my year is going to end?' " Davenport said. "I called the trainer out and basically just asked, 'Is there anything more we can do?'
"And she goes, 'No,' and that's what kind of turned me around. I figured that if this is what I'm going to have to play with, then this is what I'm going to have to do, and I did."
Notes: In a news conference today the WTA Tour formalized its new sponsorship deal with Sanex, a European-based body care products division of Sara Lee. Under the terms of the five-year deal, which has been estimated at $28 million to $30 million, Sanex will be the Tour's title sponsor worldwide but will not get signage and hospitality benefits in North America for at least two years. . . .
Not everyone was feeling warm and fuzzy about Steffi Graf's retirement ceremony Tuesday night. Martina Hingis, who played her first-round match immediately afterward, was frustrated by getting a late start. "It was a pain in the--" Hingis said, stopping short. "I have great respect for what [Steffi] achieved, but she could have done it a little earlier."