Before today's Australian Open final even started, Lindsay Davenport had thrown Martina Hingis's renowned confidence into a tailspin, shaking the three-time defending champion so badly that just walking out on the court was an exercise in anxiety.
Not much changed once the match began.
From the very first point, Davenport was so dominating, so powerful and just so much better that Hingis, already smaller than the 6-foot-1 Californian, seemed to shrink even further as the match wore on. She was able to make a short comeback midway through the second set, winning four games in a row to prevent the match from turning into a blowout, but in the end she could do nothing to prevent Davenport from authoritatively claiming her third Grand Slam title, 6-1, 7-5.
While Davenport did not overtake Hingis's No. 1 ranking, she did collect $460,600 and a nice trophy to add to those she won at the U.S. Open in 1998 and at Wimbledon in 1999. She also strengthened her mental edge over Hingis, who she has defeated six of the last seven times.
"Martina told me after the match, 'I just can't play you,' and it's pretty rare to hear her say that," Davenport said. "Definitely, she's intimidated by me, and that's the best compliment you could ever get. It's amazing."
Hingis was already edgy before the match, having seen her 50-match win streak at this tournament ended in the doubles final Friday. Hingis, who along with partner Mary Pierce lost, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, to Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs, was extremely frustrated afterward, speaking at length in the locker room and then in her post-match news conference about how poorly she played.
Finally, Stubbs had enough.
"All she kept telling me [in the locker room] was how bad she played, and 'have you ever seen me play so bad?' " Stubbs said. "Well, how about a little credit? I think it's hard for these players sometimes to give credit to their opponent, just because they have a bad day. It's so annoying."
While Hingis seemed unbothered by Stubbs's frustration, she was more upset when her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, left the stands of the doubles match midway through the third set. Molitor remained in the stands today, although Hingis wasn't looking much sharper than she had the day before. She hit a forehand into the net on the first point, and although she held her serve to start the match, she was unable to do much else in the first set. Moving without any hesitation or apparent concern for the slight left hamstring strain she brought into the match, Davenport pounded serves, hit speedy returns and placed her shots with alarming accuracy.
Eight minutes into the match, Davenport had earned her first break, taking a 2-1 lead. Nineteen minutes into the match, Davenport had earned the first set, and Hingis had begun to get frustrated. While Davenport was certainly playing well, Hingis was not, and her 23 errors were uncharacteristic. After some poor shots, Hingis swatted her racket into the air, after others, she swatted bouncing balls off the court.
"Things were really going my way, and I was hitting all the shots I wanted to hit," said Davenport, who has not dropped a set on the way to her Grand Slam titles. "I lost the first game and then just went on a roll; I won 10 of the next 11 games."
Things didn't get much better for Hingis at the start of the second set, as Davenport racked up another 5-1 lead and seemed to have the match all but won. Between games, Hingis dropped heavily into her change-over chair, sitting with her shoulders slumped and her head down. But whatever she was muttering into her towel must have been encouraging, because despite Davenport's domination, Hingis was able to make one last charge at turning the match around.
She put pressure on Davenport's serves and tested Davenport's hamstring by running her around the court. Faced with the pressure of the occasion, Davenport didn't react well, suddenly hitting balls a foot outside of lines that she was targeting with precision just a few minutes earlier. When she dumped a backhand into the net, Hingis earned a break, and Hingis was able to squeeze another break in to even the score at 5.
"I kept looking at the clock and thinking, oh my God, people had to pay for this," Hingis said. "At least I pushed the match to over an hour."
At that point, it appeared that Hingis could have pushed the match even further, with Davenport under pressure just to hold serve. But just as quickly as she had stumbled, Davenport began to re-gather her strength, and she managed to break Hingis' four-game win streak to take a 6-5 lead. Any jitters out of the way, she then finished the match with complete authority, building a 0-40 advantage on Hingis's serve. On Davenport's first match point, Hingis hit a backhand that sailed way over the baseline, and Davenport squealed with delight, raising both hands into the air.
It was similar to the yelp that she let out after beating Steffi Graf to win Wimbledon last year, but this one was higher-pitched, perhaps rising to the occasion of her third Grand Slam title.
"I definitely tensed up a little bit, but to win the last two games like that--it was just a great performance," Davenport said. "I can't believe I played that well in a final. You don't play that well that often in your career--you just have to cherish it."