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Panova, Dokic in Sarasota Open final

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2002

SARASOTA -- Jelena Dokic and Tatiana Panova are on the rise.

SARASOTA -- Jelena Dokic and Tatiana Panova are on the rise.

Dokic's climb is no surprise. Panova's is.

The 18-year-old Dokic, who lives in Tampa and is ranked No. 9 in the world, has three career wins and generally is regarded as one of the game's young stars. Panova, a 25-year-old Russian ranked a career-high 25th, never has won in eight years on the WTA Tour, but is playing her best tennis at an age when many begin to fade.

They meet today in the Sarasota Open final.

"Maybe I can show something," Panova said.

She showed a lot in Saturday's semifinal against 13th-ranked Meghann Shaughnessy, the second seed. Panova overcame four set points in the first and a 3-1 deficit in the second to win 7-6 (11-9), 6-4 in 2 hours, 23 minutes.

"I saw (in the second set) she was tired," Panova said. "I thought I could do better. She was dying."

This is Panova's second final this season and third of her career. The 10th seed, she has never advanced past the third round of a Grand Slam event.

Panova was 6-16 through the first half of 2001, but went on a 29-17 run the rest of the season. She reached the final of February's ASB Bank Classic in New Zealand, but lost to Anna Smashnova in straight sets. Panova hopes to become a top-20 player this year.

"I'm getting pretty close," she said.

Using a planned attack to keep Shaughnessy moving, Panova took control early with two breaks to lead 5-2. But Shaughnessy, behind a break, fought back and forced the tiebreaker. She had four set points, but each time Panova battled back, winning the final three points.

"She's good," Panova said. "Even when you have set points it doesn't mean you're going to win."

Shaughnessy broke Panova in the fourth game of the second set for a 3-1 lead, but with a chance to go ahead 4-1 she was broken after committing back-to-back unforced errors. Tied at 4, Panova broke Shaughnessy again, then held serve, saving one break point to win the second set.

In the first semifinal, Dokic defeated Virginie Razzano of France after tendinitis in Razzano's right elbow forced her to retire one game into the second set. Dokic led 6-3, 0-1, but was not happy with her play.

"I was glad to get that out of the way," Dokic said. "She actually played quite well. I didn't play my best, but it's difficult to play somebody (who is injured). ... She was probably going for it at the beginning."

Razzano, ranked No. 98, was playing in her first career semifinal. She broke Dokic's serve to open the match, then won the second game for a 2-0 lead. Dokic responded with three breaks to win the set.

Razzano received medical treatment between sets, but could not finish. She played seven matches last week, including three qualifiers. "I tried one game, but it was not good for me to continue," Razzano said.

Dokic is making her eighth final appearance and second of 2002.

U.S. takes Davis Cup lead

HOUSTON -- No amount of bad weather was going to slow the U.S. Davis Cup team.

Todd Martin and James Blake waited out a lengthy rain delay, then picked up where they left off and beat Alberto Martin and Juan Balcells in straight sets to give the Americans a 2-1 lead over Spain in their best-of-five quarterfinal.

They won 6-1, 6-4, 6-4.

"We jelled pretty good as a team," Todd Martin said. "After what happened yesterday, it was a little bit of a nervous evening for me. We went out and played well. It's easy to play with James as a partner."

Andy Roddick, 6-0 in Davis Cup play, can clinch the series by beating Alex Corretja in today's first singles match. Pete Sampras is slated to play Tommy Robredo in the second.

"It will be a difficult match but Andy will bring a lot of firepower and he thrives on situations like this," captain Patrick McEnroe said. "Corretja can give anybody trouble if he can beat Pete Sampras on grass."

Corretja upset seven-time Wimbledon champ Sampras on Friday, and the Spaniard was supposed to pair with Balcells for the doubles. But Corretja's hand was slightly swollen from a fall during his match against Sampras, so Spanish captain Jordi Arrese decided to go with Alberto Martin.

The U.S. squad was steady throughout, racing to a 6-1, 3-2 lead when rain halted play. After a 1-hour, 40-minute stop, the Americans returned in control.

Serving for the match at 5-4, the United States capitalized on its first match point, with Balcells returning Todd Martin's serve into the net.

The winner of the U.S.-Spain series faces defending champion France or the Czech Republic in the semifinals. The French led 2-1. On the other side of the draw, Russia eliminated Sweden 3-0, and Argentina led Croatia 2-1.

-- Information from Times wires was used in this report.

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