It was still dark in her hotel room this morning when Lindsay Davenport began thinking about how she was going to play Martina Hingis in the final of the WTA Tour's season-ending Chase Championships. There was no way around it, she decided. She was simply going to have to be the aggressor and push the world's No. 1 player up and down the court.
Six hours later, Davenport was standing in the middle of Madison Square Garden, serenely waiting to serve. Across the net, Martina Hingis stood with her left hand jabbing her hip, her face registering disbelief. It didn't take a look at the scoreboard to know that Davenport's plan was working.
"When I woke up today, I really just wanted to go for my shots, go for my winners and be the one who was dictating, and I was able to do it all," Davenport said later. "Sometimes they fall in and sometimes they don't, but today was one of the days I probably played my best match ever."
That strong play was rewarded when Davenport won the final 10 points of the match--including three aces on her last four serves--to claim a 6-4, 6-2 victory and $500,000 in prize money.
Hingis won $250,000 as the runner-up and took home an additional $100,000 for winning the doubles title a few hours later, pairing with Anna Kournikova to defeat Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Larisa Neiland, 6-4, 6-4. The extra money was nice, although it was little consolation for Hingis, who is 0-3 against Davenport this year.
"She just didn't give me a chance to get back into it," said Hingis, who will retain her No. 1 ranking despite the loss. "I didn't really have that many opportunities--she served very well and even the groundstrokes were just very deep. It was hard to do anything with them."
Davenport, who finishes the year ranked No. 2, was in control from the start, breaking Hingis's serve in the opening game. Davenport was pounding her groundstrokes, running Hingis from sideline to sideline and executing approach shots to such perfection that by the time Davenport was up 2-1 in the first set, frustration was accenting Hingis's body language. And that was before things got difficult.
When Davenport earned another break point in the match's fifth game, Hingis vehemently argued a line call with the umpire, drawing boos from the crowd. Hingis saved the game on the next point, bringing the score back to deuce, but when Davenport managed to break her anyway a few shots later, taking a 4-1 lead, Hingis threw her racket in disgust.
Despite showcasing some of the petulance she has become known for this year, Hingis also showed her trademark grit by reclaiming one of Davenport's breaks and then taking a 0-30 lead as Davenport tried to serve out the first set. Her determination didn't propel her any closer to a victory--Davenport charged back to take the first set and then floated through the second set virtually untouched--but it did give Hingis something to feel good about as she embarks on the month-long break before preparations for next season begin.
After a tumultuous year on tour, Hingis said she feels pleased with the way things have ended.
"This was the best year I've ever had," said Hingis, who started the year by winning the Australian Open but bottomed out midway through when she lost the French Open in an emotional final and then was ousted in the first round of Wimbledon during a split with her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor. Reunited with Molitor, Hingis rebounded to reach the final of the U.S. Open.
"This year was amazing to me because I learned a lot about myself," Hingis said. "I had support from my mother and the people around us, but at the end, it's you who has to go out there and do it, you know. I'm very happy about that, that I was able to do it, and I'm going to try to continue."
Davenport, who won Wimbledon in June, also considers the year a great success. After long being labeled as a player who wasn't taking advantage of her gifts and couldn't win in big situations, she feels she has proven her mettle to both the world and herself.
"With the amount of times I've pulled through in big finals and winning two Grand Slams and an Olympic medal and now the end-of-year championships, there's not that many more to win," said Davenport, who won the U.S. Open in 1998. "To people who said I wasn't strong enough, this is definitely proof that you can change things around."
Still, Davenport isn't taking any of her success for granted. "I wake up every day and go, 'God, I can't believe what I've done,' " she said. "For some people when they hear that, it shocks them--other players say, 'Oh, I knew I was going to win all those titles.'
"But the truth is that I think I'm very lucky for accomplishing everything I have. I think it's great, and I enjoy thinking about it all the time."
Tennis Notes: Neiland, 33, made her retirement official after today's match.