Top-seeded Davenport retires in opening match

July 29, 2005 12:33 AM
Lindsay Davenport speaks to her trainer before withdrawing with a back injury in her second-round match against Anna-Lena Groenfeld at the Bank of the West Classic© Harry How/Getty Images
STANFORD, Calif. (AP) -- Fighting a twinge in her back, Lindsay Davenport tried to convince herself that she could deal with the pain for a few games and then it magically would go away.

Instead, Davenport's hard luck with her health continued.

The top-seeded Davenport retired in the first set of her opening match Thursday at the Bank of the West Classic with a strained lower back, the same injury that hampered her in the Wimbledon final earlier this month.

"I knew it was going to be a tough day,'' she said. "I did everything I could do. It's frustrating because it's so on and off. ... It's almost moody. I get clearance to play, clearance to practice and clearance to do stuff, and then it flares up again.''

In Thursday's late match, fourth-seeded Kim Clijsters defeated Ai Sugiyama 6-1, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals.

Davenport, ranked No. 1 in the world and playing her first match since losing the longest Wimbledon women's final to Venus Williams, trailed 5-0 to Anna-Lena Groenefeld when the trainer came on court to examine her. Davenport shook hands and conceded the match several minutes later.

Davenport stretched for a backhand during a practice earlier in the day when her back "locked up.'' She underwent two hours of treatment, and decided to give it a go, but quickly realized she wasn't right.

"It was pretty clear after I served the first game that I didn't have any real mobility in my back and wouldn't be able to reach much,'' she said.

She experiences pain and spasms on the lower left side of her back. It bothers her most when she turns or extends to serve. Davenport, the defending champion of this event, hoped she could work through it and eventually loosen up.

Her back first started bothering her in the third set of the Wimbledon final, and she lost 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7 to Williams in a match that lasted 2 hours, 45 minutes.

Davenport took two weeks off afterward and didn't play Fed Cup.

"It's tough to play matches at 30-40 percent of where you need to be at,'' she said. "My whole life is basically revolved around treatment, eating and trying to practice in between.''

Davenport's early exit eliminated the chance of a much anticipated rematch with Williams in Sunday's final. Davenport, who beat Williams for the title last year, looked off from the start of the match, struggling to get to balls she usually would reach with ease. She trailed 3-0 only six minutes in.

Now, the top priority for the 29-year-old Davenport is being healthy for the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 29 in New York.

"I don't know what to say except I'm doing my best,'' she said. "I still have four or five weeks before New York, and that's definitely my main goal.''

Clijsters, on the same side of the bracket as Davenport, is now the favorite to reach the final.

"I was very surprised and shocked to see her back was sore,'' Clijsters said. "She's a great girl who I always got along well with. I don't know how much longer she's going to play, and you want it to end well, where she decides when she wants to finish and not because of an injury. It's sad.''

Clijsters lunged and skidded, nearly doing the splits several times, to keep long points alive. Sugiyama stayed in long rallies to make for an entertaining match, but didn't hold serve until the first game of the second set, and she went to deuce five times to win that game. She won her serve just twice in all.

"I think something I learned from our previous matches was that I let her dictate points too much,'' said Clijsters, 5-3 lifetime against Sugiyama. "If I wanted to win today, I had to hit the ball deep and hard and put her on her back foot.''

Earlier Thursday, Iveta Benesova upset eighth-seeded Francesca Schiavone 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (4) to reach the quarterfinals.

Benesova, a powerful 22-year-old left-hander, broke Schiavone's serve for a 4-2 lead in the second set, but immediately was broken back -- setting off a mini tantrum. She slammed her racket to the ground and yelled at herself.

After that, she raised her game.

"It was a good sign for me, because that's when I started to play better,'' she said. "The first set was really tough. She was playing unbelievable. She didn't give me much chance there. I came back and broke her twice in the second set.''

Schiavone, the 23rd-ranked Italian, lost despite 15 aces.

Benesova will play another left-hander in the quarterfinals Friday, meeting third-seeded Patty Schnyder.

In other action, Daniela Hantuchova outlasted Meghann Shaughnessy 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, ending the match with four aces.