Davenport one step away


WIMBLEDON, England - Lindsay Davenport is the champion who can't get any respect, the prime-time player shunted out of the spotlight.

But she doesn't mind.

Overlooked yet overpowering, Davenport still has a chance to regain her Wimbledon title after overwhelming Jelena Dokic, 6-4, 6-2, in yesterday's women's semifinals.

She didn't play perfectly, but it didn't matter.

At this stage of Wimbledon, survive-and-advance is all a player of Davenport's ability wants, saving her best shots and best stuff for tomorrow's final against Venus Williams.

"It wasn't great, but I obviously played a level above Jelena and was able to get through the match," Davenport said. "Sometimes, that just happens. You have two players who aren't necessarily playing their best. You just kind of play as well as you need to win."

With a bad back and little match play in the weeks before Wimbledon, Davenport was something of a question mark entering the tournament.

Yet, with quiet determination, she has progressed through the draw, losing two sets on her way to the final. Her play is in keeping with her low-key personal style.

Others on the tour may travel with entourages and court publicity, but not Davenport. Her parents aren't here, and a cousin who showed has decided to skip tomorrow's final.

'They're kind of over my tennis career," she said.

Other star players might have gotten into a snit with all the attention heaped on Venus Williams' two-set win over her sister, Serena Williams.

But not Davenport, calling the Williams vs. Williams battle "pretty exceptional."

"By no means should myself playing Dokic overshadow that," she said.

Davenport let others carry the tournament, content to remain off the front pages while other stars and would-be stars received the bulk of the attention.

"I've always said that the only reason why I'm here is just to play tennis, get through it, see personally what I can achieve, and leave all the other business to the other players and let them deal with it," Davenport said. "I don't have to deal with a lot of outside things."

From Anna Kournikova's revealing ads to Alexandra Stevenson's travails, from the duel of the Williams sisters to the return of Martina Navratilova, Wimbledon has thrown up an abundance of plot lines that has kept attention far away from Davenport.

Dokic became embroiled in the media swirl last week, when her father, Damir, clashed with a television reporter and was voluntarily led away by police. She even dealt with the aftermath of the recent firing of her coach, Tony Roche, one of the most respected tacticians in the game.

"Whether she plays tennis or not, it's hard to have a parent that distracts from the overall good of what the child is achieving," Davenport said. "It's tough because I'm sure she'll have to answer questions about that for a very long time."

Yet with steely-eyed calm and a vicious forehand, Dokic, the 17-year-old who was born in Yugoslavia and raised in Australia, battled her way to the semifinals.

She said both she and her father "know what I need to do. It's not very hard to figure out when you know your game, you know what to work on, you know where to win matches and where you lose matches."

Dokic said she was disappointed with her performance against Davenport. After getting an early service break, she rushed her shots, tried to match Davenport from the baseline, and was overpowered.

"I've beaten top players," she said. "I know what to expect from them."

There are some who say Dokic has an intuitive feel for the grass game and could one day challenge for the title as she adapts to the surroundings.

Said Davenport: "You never know what's going to happen with younger players. But she's definitely a very, very talented player."

With Davenport, there are few secrets. At 6 feet 2 1/2 , she is a big-swinging baseliner, serving hard, creating power on her ground strokes.

Last year, she used that power to beat Steffi Graf and emerge as Wimbledon's surprise champion.

If she wins again this year, it won't be that great a surprise. Though Venus Williams has an array of weapons and speed, Davenport has beaten her in nine of their 12 meetings.

"A lot of times, I found the key was to get her serve back, get them back deep so she obviously doesn't have put-away shots," Davenport said. "On grass, that's going to be a little more difficult than on other surfaces. I'll have to concentrate on that."

Davenport said she'll try to keep Williams pinned deep.

"You've got to hold your serve and look for your opportunities to break and really not let her step inside the baseline and hit the shots," Davenport said. "She hits them so hard that on grass they might be hard to handle."

Wimbledon today

(Seeds in parentheses)

Men's semifinals

Patrick Rafter (12) vs. Andre Agassi (2), Ch. 11, noon (tape)

Pete Sampras (1) vs. Vladimir Voltchkov, TNT, 5 p.m. (tape)

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