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Davenport still a threat to win at U.S. Open

Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Look who's suddenly on the list of U.S. Open favorites, playing so superbly that all her talk about retirement seems downright silly:

Lindsay Davenport.

That's right, Davenport, the former No. 1 player, the three-time Grand Slam tournament champion, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist, who hasn't been in a major final in four years.

In a season filled with injuries and inconsistency among the top women, there's no reason the 28-year-old Davenport couldn't walk away with a second U.S. Open title,

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Even she'll admit as much.

"I feel the best that I've felt ever going into a Grand Slam," said Davenport, the champion in her past four tournaments, all on hard courts.

"What I've done everything over the last 12 months for, is to do well and to try and win another Slam, and the U.S. Open would probably be the one that I'd want the most -- being that it was the first one that I'd ever played in, the first one that I'd ever won, and being in the home country."

At Wimbledon, where she lost to Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, Davenport said she planned to walk away from the sport after the season-ending championship in Los Angeles.

Since the All England Club, though, Davenport hasn't lost a match, and her opponents included Venus and Serena Williams, Anastasia Myskina and Elena Dementieva. Davenport led the U.S. Open Series standings, meaning she'll earn a 50 percent prize money bonus at the Slam.

Given her recent run, one might think Davenport would have scrapped any thoughts of quitting.

"They haven't been completely erased," she said. "I'll see at the end of the year if I'm feeling still really healthy. Who knows what can happen?"

The same could be said of the U.S. Open as a whole, particularly on the women's side, where it's anyone's guess who'll succeed Sharapova and Myskina (French Open) as major champions.

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"It's been really interesting to see, especially the last two Grand Slams, who's come out on top," Davenport said. "It's proven that anything can really happen right now."

Three contenders to take the Open title from 2003 winner Justine Henin-Hardenne were slated to play in Arthur Ashe Stadium today: second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo vs. Marissa Irvin of the United States, No. 8 Jennifer Capriati vs. Denisa Chladkova of the Czech Republic, and, at night, two-time champion Serena Williams vs. Sandra Kleinova of the Czech Republic.

Also scheduled for action on Day 1: Andre Agassi vs. Robby Ginepri of the United States, top-ranked Roger Federer vs. 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa, and Olympic silver medalist Mardy Fish vs. David Ferrer of Spain.

Davenport's cause is helped by all the uncertainty in women's tennis. Henin-Hardenne looked superb in winning Olympic gold after playing just one match in four months because of a viral illness, but who knows if she can sustain for another seven matches?

The Williams sisters both have battled injuries for more than a year, though at least they're here after missing last year's Open. Kim Clijsters, the 2003 runner-up, is out after wrist surgery.

Mauresmo and Capriati both have had problems closing the deal lately -- Capriati surely must think back now and then to her semifinal loss to Henin-Hardenne, a classic match in which the American was two points from victory 10 times.

U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe figures the eventual winner will not be a total shock.

"I always think that it's hard for somebody out of nowhere to come through at the U.S. Open, because of the conditions, because of the hard courts," McEnroe said. "It's the last major of the year, so most players have had a full season, so you don't have surprises."

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While Sharapova had displayed tons of talent, her Wimbledon title could be classified as a surprise. After all, she's only 17, had played in merely six majors, and was seeded 13th.

Now, and forever, she's a Slam champ and must deal with all that comes with that appellation.

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