All it took was losing one set point for Lindsay Davenport to rejuvenate from a disgruntled player returning from injury to a former No. 1 player ready to send a loud message to the women’s tennis world.
Davenport overcame yet another sluggish start at the Toray Pan Pacific finals on Sunday against another former No. 1 Monica Seles. But Davenport recharged her batteries after dropping the first set to dominate the rest of the final of the annual tournament at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium, defeating Seles 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-2.
It was her third tournament title in seven appearances, and although she missed out on another title after losing in the doubles finals in straight sets, Davenport went home $204,725 richer.
And with a boost of confidence.
“The last two sets were some of the best tennis I’ve played in a lot of months,” said Davenport, who would’ve been the fifth player in the 20-year tournament history to complete a double title (singles and doubles). “I think, finally, in my mind, I was clear on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to play — win or lose.”
No. 10 Davenport had a set point in the first-set tiebreak at 6-5. But Davenport hit a forehand deep on the ensuing point and Seles responded by stealing the next two points — including a backhand cross-court winner on the run — for the set.
“I think losing the first set was a big wakeup call for me,” Davenport said.
Davenport’s sloppy, sluggish game in Saturday’s semifinals was all but gone in the second and third sets. Yes, Davenport still made errors, but she figured attacking was the only way to come out of the late struggles.
“I just didn’t think I was playing the right type of game in the first set and I really wanted to be going after balls more,” said Davenport, who crushed eight winners and two service aces in the first three games of the second set to go up 3-0.
“All of a sudden, I found out I was making more returns and hitting harder and that’s the way I needed to play tennis.”
The rest of the second set was all Davenport. She ran down tough-angle shots, continued to rip winners deep into the court, and served out the set with three straight blazing aces.
Seles, who was aiming for her first tournament title, tried to keep pace with Davenport’s punishing groundstrokes in the final set.
Seles, who Davenport said is “one of the best returners there is,” used the low-bouncing carpet surface to her advantage. Down 2-1 with Davenport serving, Seles rushed her opponent into make early errors and tied the game 2-2.
But Davenport had exactly the same idea the following game, which proved to be decisive.
With Seles serving, Davenport showed no fear in attacking the baseline, mounting seven winners in a game that lasted four deuces and broke Seles the second time in the set to go up 3-2.
“Lindsay just picked up her game, made less errors and my serve went away. That combination was just too good out there,” the 29-year-old Seles said. “When she broke me the second time (to make it 3-2), I pretty much knew I was out of the match.”
What troubled Seles most was Davenport’s serve, which Davenport said was the most important element for her to win the final. The 189-cm Davenport dished out 16 aces in total.
“She just placed it really well,” Seles said, “so it was hard for me to read it.”
Added Davenport: “I wanted to serve well and I got broken a couple of times, but I managed to hang on a lot.”
Davenport had to return to center court immediately after winning the singles title for the doubles final, pairing with compatriot Lisa Raymond, against Rennae Stubbs of Australia and Elena Bovina of Russia. Davenport didn’t have much luck the second time, losing in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4.
Davenport had to endure knee surgery and some frustrating moments before clinching her 38th tour title. She had not held a winner’s trophy for 15 months, last winning the Generali Ladies Linz in October 2001. Knee surgery forced her to sit out for 10 months from November 2001.
Now, she likes her chances, especially after the way she played on Sunday. She said her immediate goal was to win a couple more tournaments and have a top-five spot secured by the time Wimbledon starts.
“I didn’t play in any tournaments until the middle of July last year, so I have a very good opportunity to pick up points in the next few months,” Davenport said. “My rankings can only go up.”