Two American women struggled back from the brink of defeat to set up an all-USA final on Saturday at the 2005 Australian Open.
Serena Williams avenged her loss in last year's Wimbledon final by defeating Maria Sharapova of Russia, 2-6, 7-5, 8-6, and Lindsay Davenport shrugged off a disastrous first set to overcome a determined Natalie Dechy of France, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4.
For Davenport, the victory marks her first trip in five years to the finals of a Grand Slam championship. In 2000, she won the Australian Open, defeating Martina Hingis, and reached the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Despite her current world ranking of No. 1, she has failed to win one of the four major championships since then.
For Williams, the victory hoists her back into prominence as a fighter and competitor after two years of less-successful results. She won the Australian Open and Wimbledon championships in 2003, then struggled with injuries and relative inactivity. Both victories represented gritty comebacks for the American winners. Williams staved off three match points in the second and third sets. Davenport never faced a match point but came close to collapse in the second set.
Williams said she decided to resist defeat.
"In the second [set], I thought, "OK, God, I could have won this set already. Why am I still out here?" I thought, 'OK, well, maybe I should have played better. So just fight for every point."
A similar thought crossed her mind when Sharapova reached a second match point, which Williams had faced in other matches.
"Then the third match point came around. I was like, 'OK, haven't been in this situation before. It's a new experience for me, but I can keep fighting.' "
Davenport, who trailed 4-1 in the second-set tiebreaker, confessed that she feared defeat.
"Oh, yeah," she said, "making as many errors as I was making and not feeling like I could even keep that many balls in … I was still hopeful, but wasn't looking good."
The head-to-head series of matches over the years between Williams and Davenport provides few clues to Saturday's victor.
Williams leads by 9-4, but Davenport has won their last two meetings, including a 6-1, 6-3 victory in Los Angeles last year and a 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 triumph in the first round of the 2004 Tour Championships.
Williams appears more fit than last year and Davenport admitted to a certain stiffness after today's match, brought on, perhaps, by her playing in women's doubles.
And how does it feel to return to a Grand Slam final?
For Davenport there were doubts despite her happiness at the prospect of winning another title.
"I don't know. I don't know," she said. "I'm sure both of us are ecstatic to be back. Probably seems like a long time for her. Seems like forever for me."
For Williams, who was interviewed before Davenport's victory identified her as her next opponent, the thrill of tennis seems to have returned. The finals on Saturday should be a welcome moment:
"Because this is what I love to do," Williams said. "I love nothing more than walking out there, hearing my name being announced, 'Serena Williams,' the crowd goes wild. I love that feeling."
As if there were any lingering doubts about her interest in tennis, which had seemed to take a back seat to acting and other pursuits, Williams added:
"I love being able to perform and being able to play a sport that's so fun, you can travel the world. It's just, I think it's a great, great thing for me. I wouldn't give it up right now for anything."
Come Saturday, both players will have a chance to perform one more time in the Australian Open finals.