After an fierce match that was delayed two days by rain, Davenport advances.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
WIMBLEDON, England -- Four minutes -- about the time it takes to boil an egg and butter your toast -- and Lindsay Davenport was into the Wimbledon final Friday, overjoyed to have closed out a rain-suspended two-day match quickly and even happier to get almost a full day's rest before her 27th war with Venus Williams on Saturday.
This match is about resurrection for Williams, who has gone 13 Grand Slams since she last won one, at the 2001 U.S. Open.
For Davenport, who defeated Amelie Mauresmo, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-4, to reach her third Wimbledon final, it's about proving to herself that there's a fourth major in her beaten-up, 29-year-old body.
"It's so even," Davenport said of a rivalry that dates to 1997. "I've played her far more than anyone I've played on tour. Yet we've both gone through so many transitions. In the beginning, I was always winning. Then she was always winning. The last few times it's been me."
However, while Davenport has been the victor the past four matches and leads 14-12, Williams has won the three times they've played on grass -- all at Wimbledon, including the 2000 final which produced Williams' first Grand Slam title.
It's the fourth time this decade two Americans have met in the Wimbledon women's final, and though that patriotic thought hasn't been lost on either woman, they know this match isn't about waving the flag.
"I think playing her is very similar to playing me," Williams said. "I'm probably going to get to a few more balls. I have a bigger serve and that kind of thing. But definitely it's somewhat like looking at me across the court."
A growing rivalry
Their relationship seemed strained when Williams was younger and feistier, arguing with chair umpires and going through the controversial bumping incident with the Romanian Irina Spirlea at the U.S. Open.
However, as both women matured, so have their feelings about each other. They don't socialize, but there's an obvious deep respect for each other's tennis.
Williams is a changed personality. She doesn't wear crazy tennis clothes, like her younger sister, Serena, or make brash predictions. She has become a lot more like Davenport, who is outspoken but diplomatic, aggressive in her attitudes but never overbearing.
"Not to disappoint you, but my mind is so far from tomorrow's match. I've had this nervous energy for 24 hours," the top-seeded Davenport told reporters after the semifinal.
"Obviously, I know I play Venus. She obviously must be playing well. But for me right now, it's just more about getting through a really tough draw. I know this is a great opportunity. I'm just excited about it."
Going to the final
It was 5:22 p.m. on the worst afternoon of rain of the fortnight when Mauresmo served up the first ball of the match, more than four hours after the scheduled 1 p.m. start on Centre Court.
The two women labored through nearly three sets before they were rained off at 7:30 with Davenport leading 5-3 in the third. She then waited anxiously for an hour, desperately hoping to get back on court to finish this semifinal, before tournament referee Alan Mills called a halt and sent everyone home.
"It was such a tough 24 hours. I mean, I was here at 10 or 10:30 yesterday warming up. Got on the court around 5:30, got out of here at 9:30. To come back in that situation ... it was brutal," Davenport said.
She had finally gained some momentum in the third set after failing to find any consistency against a player she has dominated for six years.
Then, as she built a 5-3 lead, the clouds darkened and so did Davenport's thoughts. "I was thinking, 'Oh, my gosh, this is not going to happen,' because right then the rain came."
When she reappeared Friday on Court One, where they had been moved Thursday to allow Williams and Maria Sharapova to play concurrently, there was an elastic bandage on her upper leg, leading many to wonder what new injury had she suffered now.
"I'm still healthy, I promise," she joked later. "I've had just a lot of problems with that area of my body. I woke up after playing Kuznetsova [in the quarterfinals] with my legs really tight. This was more a precaution not to pull it or anything.
"I could go run for you," she said, laughing.