Davenport, Sampras power into semifinals


First, her broad shoulders began to sag. Then, her head followed. Serena Williams’ body language spoke volumes as her quarterfinal match against Lindsay Davenport slipped away at the U.S. Open.

There were screams of anguish as her shots flew long and wide. On one point, she smashed her racket in frustration. Ultimately, though, there was nothing the defending champion could do about Davenport’s power game that resulted in a 6-4, 6-2 wipeout.

It was much the same in the men’s quarterfinal with Pete Sampras and Richard Krajicek booming serves of up to 132 mph at each other. Eventually, Sampras prevailed, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-2.

Krajicek has the best record of any active player against Sampras, winning six of nine previous meetings, and seemed to have the No. 4 seed cornered after winning the first set and leading the second set tiebreak 6-2.

But Sampras reached into his reservoir of power tennis and won the next six points to take the tiebreak and tie the match. After that, he took charge, fighting off 23 aces by Krajicek with a demonstration of brilliant shotmaking.

“I was getting outplayed,” Sampras said. “Richard puts a lot of pressure on my service game. I thought I was gone.”

Instead, he stuck around, saved by that series of six straight tiebreak points.

“Richard always plays me tough,” he said. “After I won the second set, Richard got a little down.”

That was the opening he needed, and he seized it and the match.

Davenport ended a five-match losing streak against Williams even though the defending champion had several statistical edges.

Williams had more aces (8 to 5), fewer double faults (2 to 3), a better first-serve percentage (66 to 48), a faster serve (111 mph to 107) and more winners (31 to 18).

So, how come she lost?

The answer was that Davenport never was broken. On each of Williams’ five chances, Davenport survived the crisis.

“The goal was to hold my serve, hang with her when she made some good shots,” she said. “You’ve got to hold serve. You’ve got to be able to do that.

“She had a lot of opportunities at the beginning of the first set. When I broke her at 4-all it seemed to deflate her. She had break points she didn’t take advantage of.”

Davenport played steady tennis, trading booming shots with Williams until she found the openings she needed. When Williams fought off five match points in an extraordinary 20-point game, Davenport simply won the match on her next service game.

“I was still up two breaks. I was still in good position,” Davenport said.

“That’s the best she ever played against me,” Williams said. “She should take that attitude toward everyone.”

Like her sister, Venus, the day before, Serena said she had not played her best.

“I wasn’t on my best game today,” she said. “You can’t allow yourself not to be on your best game in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam.”

Davenport thought she had something to do with that.

“I know she feels she didn’t play well,” she said. “I thought I played well to make her not play well.”

Next for Davenport is surprising Elena Dementieva, who continued her unseeded march through the tournament, ousting No. 10 Anke Huber 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 to reach the semifinals.

Semifinals? Dementieva? Even she couldn’t believe it.

“You know,” she said, “it is just amazing because two years ago, I just watched them on TV. I didn’t think that I can play like I play now.”

There were signals, though, from the 18-year-old, who rallied from a 1-4 deficit to defeat Venus Williams for Russia’s only point against the United States in the Fed Cup final. She had other wins over Huber, Mary Pierce and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario this season, all of them seeded at the Open.

Huber viewed the defeat as a lost opportunity. But it was her loss to Dementieva at Indian Wells that thrust the teen-ager into the top 50.

“I think she can hit the ball hard,” she said. “She has a good forehand. She moves very, very well. I think maybe she has to improve her serve, a few other things. Otherwise, she has a good game.”

And a spot in the semifinals.

Dementieva wasn’t the only teen-ager to succeed on Wednesday. Nineteen-year-old Lleyton Hewitt made fast work of Arnaud Clement 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, earning a semifinal date with Sampras.

That made him the youngest male Grand Slam semifinalist since 18-year old Andre Medvedev made it at the French Open in 1993.

Like Dementieva, Hewitt was surprised with his continuing success at Open. He defeated Sampras at Queens, the traditional warmup for Wimbledon. But he was knocked off in the first round at All England Club, a tournament won, as usual, by Sampras.

“I didn’t come here to win it,” Hewitt said. “Probably a bit stupid for me to come out and say `I’m going to win this tournament,’ when I haven’t made the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam going into this event.

That’s not really realistic coming here and saying I’m going to knock off Agassi, Sampras, Krajicek, whoever and win this tournament. All these sort of great champions who have been in that situation before.

“You know it really has been a bonus to make it through to the semifinals now.”