On Friday night, the car Martina Hingis was riding in was struck by a Ryder truck. After that experience, facing down one of Venus Williams's 118 mph serves today didn't seem so bad.
"We kind of got squished by the Ryder truck--the car just got a little smaller," said Hingis, who was unhurt in the accident. "Honestly, after all the things I've been through this year, nothing seems like a big deal anymore."
The smallest and least powerful woman in the WTA Tour's top quartet, Hingis has spent this season struggling with the brawn of Williams and her sister Serena, keeping a hold on the No. 1 ranking by dodging whatever comes hurtling toward her--automotive or otherwise. Today at the Chase Championships, her cause was aided slightly by a recurring neck and back injury that limited Williams's mobility, although the 6-foot-1 American still threw plenty of powerful strokes and serves at the 5-7 Hingis, locking her into a nearly two-hour endurance match.
When it was finally over, Hingis had a 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) victory and a berth in Sunday's final against Lindsay Davenport, who roasted Nathalie Tauziat, 7-6 (7-3), 6-0, in today's other semifinal. Davenport and Hingis will play a rematch of last year's final, which Hingis won. Williams had an airline ticket home to Florida, where her sister also is recovering from an injury.
"Serena and I, we're both in the same boat . . . and we're sinking a little bit," Venus said, referring to the back strain that forced her sister to withdraw from this tournament earlier this week. When asked whether she thought the pair could be more susceptible to injury because of a limited tournament schedule, she said, "No, I think we have too many muscles."
Venus and Serena Williams, ranked No. 3 and 4, respectively, are certainly two of the strongest players on tour, and the 6-2 Davenport, ranked No. 2, isn't far behind. Their collective muscle has forced Hingis to head to the weight room this year, take up roller-blading and improve her overall fitness. Still, her game relies more on placement than power, and today she did her best to move Williams around the court to her advantage.
Hingis started by breaking Williams early in the match, going up 2-1 with a mix of groundstrokes and approach shots. That turned the rest of the set into something of a cat-and-mouse game, with Williams doing the chasing and Hingis doing a nice job of eluding. Six times over Hingis's next four service games, Williams had an opportunity to break; six times Williams failed. Williams had four break points in the set's eighth game alone, but she could never quite overcome Hingis, giving up the game when she hit a service return wide.
"She's stronger, but I was just more patient, I guess," Hingis said. "Sometimes she would miss because she got impatient. I can't overpower her, so I had to just wait for my moments."
Hingis broke Williams again early in the second set and threatened to walk away with the match with another break point two games later. But Williams was able to bring that game back to deuce and win it, and she followed that up with a break on Hingis's serve, evening the score at 3. That forced the set to a tiebreaker, which Hingis finally won with a forehand volley.
Williams, who summoned a trainer for a neck massage midway through the second set, believes she would have been able to push the match to a third set if her neck and back, which have been hurting for a few weeks, had been looser.
"I think there were a lot of points where I was unable to play my best because I just had to slow down some, and then I had to speed it up more at different times," she said. ". . . Hopefully, I'll see her in Australia."
Hingis also will be looking forward to an Australian Open rematch next year, although today she seemed more concerned with getting an accident-free ride home and preparing for her match with Davenport, who defeated her last week in the final of the Advanta Championships in Philadelphia. Davenport got off to a somewhat slow start today against Tauziat, falling behind 1-3 and then facing a set point on her serve at 5-6. But once Davenport dug herself out of danger with a service winner, Tauziat seemed disheartened. Davenport controlled the next game and the tiebreaker before blasting her way through the second set.
Tauziat earned just four points in the entire second set--and three of those came on Davenport's double faults.
"At the end, I was not there," said Tauziat, who has claimed two titles in her last four tournaments but pleaded exhaustion today. "In my head, I have no more power. That's it."