At the other end of this century, tennis players swilled
champagne during changeovers. But Martina Hingis drained no
magnums on Sunday during the final of the Chase Championships in
New York City. Playing as flat as day-old Canada Dry, the
normally bubbly Hingis got toasted 6-4, 6-2 by Lindsay
Davenport. The No. 2-ranked Davenport, who poured nine aces and
dropped only four points on serve, was the life of the
millennium-ending party at Madison Square Garden.
For the last 100 years--or at least since hard-drinking Suzanne
Lenglen outgutted and outglutted hard-serving Helen Wills at
Cannes in 1926--the most riveting rivalries in the women's game
have been two-pronged: Bueno-Hard, Court-King,
Evert-Navratilova, Graf-Seles. That all changed in 1999, when
the world of women's tennis seemed to revolve on the three-teen
axis of Hingis, 19, and the Williams sisters, 19-year-old Venus
(the current No. 3) and 18-year-old Serena (No. 4). Mixing
on-court panache with off-court badinage, this trio of ingenues
snared most of the headlines and snagged 17 of the titles,
including the Australian Open (Hingis) and U.S. Open (Serena)
Spinning blithely in her own orbit was Davenport, a sometimes
ungainly 23-year-old happy to be odd-woman-out. "The lack of
media attention definitely helped me," says Davenport, the
reigning Wimbledon champ. "It freed me up to concentrate on
improving my game against the other three. Right now, the four
of us are playing at a higher level than everyone else."
So high that none of the other 12 singles players at the Chase
were ever in the chase. Hingis's 6-1, 6-2 quarterfinal thrashing
of fifth-ranked Mary Pierce was even more one-sided than the
score suggests. In the semis Davenport spit out the sixth seed,
Nathalie Tauziat, who turned in the most transparent French tank
job since the fall of Paris. Tauziat won only four points in the
18-minute second set and surrendered the match on back-to-back
Venus was so confident of winning her second-set tiebreaker
against Barbara Schett in the quarterfinals that she leapfrogged
the net during a changeover, thereby qualifying for the women's
high jump at next year's Millrose Games. She had less to say
about her appearance--she wore a backless, sideless tennis dress
the color of antifreeze--than about the recent appearance she
and Serena made on Hollywood Squares. "I was born in 1980,"
grumbled Venus, who studies fashion and psychology as a freshman
at the Art Institute of Florida in Miami. "They asked which
movie did Molly Ringwald star in with a lot of teenagers. I
don't know. Who was the fourth president of the United States? I
don't know!" Now, if she'd only been grilled on fashion psych....
One thing Venus did know was the benefit of Serena's withdrawal
from the Chase with a back injury. "It'll be good for everyone,"
Venus said. She and the rest of the field wouldn't have to
"worry about fighting against Serena. Little sisters are mean."
Neither sibling attended a gala Garden retirement ceremony for
Steffi Graf. "We had homework," said Venus. (Serena is taking
the same classes as her sister.) Davenport didn't show up,
either. Her relationship with Graf, a five-time Chase champion,
is prickly. "When I played well against Steffi, she never gave
me credit," Davenport says. "Some things she said about me over
the years were so...German."
Hingis, who was in the Garden during the ceremony, acknowledged
before her semifinal showdown with Venus that more than a title
shot was at stake for her. A win would avenge her only four
losses since Wimbledon, all to the Williams sisters. Small and
stealthy and cursed with one of the sport's weakest serves,
Hingis gave away six inches and nearly 40 mph to the 6'1" Venus.
So for nearly two hours she exploited Williams's tactical
naivete, luring her into lengthy baseline exchanges, entangling
her in a web of spins and fending her off with sharply angled
returns to win 6-4, 7-6.
After seven double faults, 33 unforced errors and one neck
massage, Williams alibied that a strained back had hampered her.
"My dad advised me not to play," she said. "Naturally, as a
child I didn't listen." Asked if she thought a limited
tournament schedule made her and Serena more susceptible to
injury, Venus said, "No, I think we have too many muscles."
Hingis has so few that if the sisters ever master their emotions
and harness their formidable gifts, her reign as No. 1 may end.
"Serena is the Williams closest to breaking through," says
Davenport. "Her placement is better than Venus's, and she's
mentally tougher. But Venus won't go away quietly." Neither will
Davenport. Judging by her win in the Chase, you can bank on that.
COLOR PHOTO: CHUCK SOLOMON
"The lack of attention freed me up to concentrate on improving
my game against the other three."