- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 29, 2005

MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams overcame a back injury and rallied to defeat top-ranked Lindsay Davenport 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 to win the Australian Open women’s title last night.

Williams stretched her winning streak at Melbourne Park to 14 matches and captured her seventh Grand Slam singles title, ending an 18-month drought. She also won here in 2003, but couldn’t defend the title last year because of an injured knee.

The seventh-seeded Williams, who fended off three match points in her semifinal win over Maria Sharapova on Thursday, made a dramatic comeback after needing a medical timeout in the first set for what a trainer initially described as a rib injury.

“Lindsay had me on the run. My back went out — I’m not as young as I used to be,” Williams said. “Eventually I was able to come back.”

It was Williams’ first Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2003. She spent months off the circuit because of injuries and her best result in 2004 was a run to the final at Wimbledon, where she lost to Sharapova.

Davenport, who won the last of her three Grand Slam titles here in 2000, won only eight points in the third set.

After Davenport’s backhand landed long on match point, Williams dropped to a knee and raised both arms in the air. She held up an index finger before walking over to her entourage in the crowd, slapping hands with her mother, Oracene.

Davenport, who lost in the women’s doubles final yesterday afternoon, said Williams was too strong in the end.

“She’s had a tough couple of years, but she’s come back like the champion she is,” Davenport said.

Davenport raced to a 4-0 lead in just 11 minutes in the first set, breaking Williams’ serve in the first and third games. Williams appeared to be favoring her right side each time she hit the ball and, after holding serve for the first time in the fifth game, called for the trainer.

The trainer treated her back at the side of the court, and then Williams took an eight-minute break for more treatment.

Williams had a break point in the next game but Davenport held, and closed out the set in the following game with a service winner. Williams just got to the serve on her backhand side, screaming “Ouch!” as she missed with a lunge.

After fending off six break points, Williams held serve in the fifth game of the second set. She twice appeared on the brink of smashing her racket, but held her composure and hung onto the game.

“I kept thinking, ‘I’m not losing this game — I don’t care if my arm falls off,’” she said.

After that, her body language changed, and so did her game.

She held her next service game at love, and then converted her first break point of the set — after Davenport had game point at 40-0 — for a 5-3 lead.

Williams won nine consecutive points to pull even at one set apiece, closing with her sixth ace of the set and eighth of the match.

She committed just three unforced errors in the deciding set, and her first-serve percentage jumped to 80 percent.

Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt reached the men’s final with a 3-6, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-1 win over second-ranked Andy Roddick yesterday. Hewitt will play Marat Safin, who is in his third final in four years at Melbourne Park but has yet to win one, after the Russian ended Roger Federer’s 26-match winning streak in the semifinals.

Roddick was up a break in the third set against Hewitt and eyeing a second Grand Slam singles title.

Distracted by a heckler’s outburst, Roddick gave Hewitt a look at a slower second serve and the Aussie smacked a forehand winner down the line. Roddick lost his rhythm.

Hewitt pulled back the break in that seventh game on Roddick’s consecutive double faults and went on to become the first Australian man in the final since Pat Cash lost in 1988. An Australian man hasn’t won the Australian Open since Mark Edmondson in 1976.

“I love this place,” Hewitt said.

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