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BUD COLLINS

Davenport rejects Kostanic in 40 minutes

NEW YORK -- If Lindsay had known of the joyous occasion, would she have given the young bride a wedding present?

Steak knives? An espresso machine? Crystal?

How about one game? Just one measly game to save the Croatian newlywed an embarrassed blush with about 10,000 strangers in Arthur Ashe Stadium peering at her, wondering sympathetically if she could get on the scoreboard.

She couldn't.

Jelena Kostanic had to leave the US Open bearing the worst of gifts: 6-0, 6-0 in the second round, with love, from Lindsay Davenport. Davenport had the knives out all right, and Kostanic could have used a toaster for those bagels. Or about a dozen cups of espresso to wake up from the ultimate tennis nightmare.

``It never happened to me before," said Kostanic, a 25-year-old with a nice smile that was absent yesterday. She ranks No. 71 on the planet, and has won more than $1 million in prize money through seven years (a nice dowry for new husband Roko Tosic if that's yet the custom in their homeland).

``I've played a long time, and this has never happened.

``This was the first time I played Lindsay, and I knew she was very good from watching her. I didn't think I could win, but . . . this . . ."

Some honeymoon, huh?

It turns out that No. 11 Davenport, a blissfully married Californian, is a honeymoon wrecker. In the first round, a little more charitable, she canceled a Czech with a delightfully lalapalooza of a name -- Klara Koukalova Zakopalova -- 6-1, 6-4. Kostanic isn't taking her husband's name, but how could just-married Klara resist Zakopalova?

Davenport, a certain entrant one day into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, was not aware of the nuptial net newly enveloping Kostanic. Would the knowledge have twanged a humanitarian chord within her 6-foot-3-inch frame, causing her to bestow a congratulatory game on her victim?

She is a kind person, but her brown eyes are steely as she answers. ``I don't know," Davenport said. ``I just think the mind-set of . . . especially here [at a major] . . . you know you just do what you need to do, and try to do everything the best you can. It didn't really cross my mind. I guess maybe I'll have a different philosophy possibly later."

But this is now. And a champion -- owner of Wimbledon (1999), US (1998), and Australian (2000) titles, and Olympic gold (1996) -- goes for the jugular. She got it done with her typically massive ground strokes in 40 minutes, outscoring Kostanic in points (50-21) and winners (24-2), permitting the hapless honeymooner two treks to deuce.

``Are you a mean, old lady?" a reporter queried.

``Yeah," 30-year-old Davenport smiled, ``I guess I am."

However, some people haven't been nice to Davenport lately, either, as she approaches the end of her career. Often injured, but ever stoic about being sidelined, a determined worker and rehabber in her desire to return to the game, she has been No. 1 for 1998, 2001, 2004-05, and beginning this year at the top of the heap.

But after three tournaments, she was derailed by two bulging disks in her back, then a fall at home, and kept idle for five months. Yet when she applied for wild cards to play Montreal and San Diego to prepare for the Open, she was turned down by the Women's Tennis Association because she had not fulfilled tournament commitments.

Well, she couldn't -- she was injured.

Where was judgment and understanding? Stupidity was there at the WTA, though, depriving those tournaments of an all-timer's presence, and penalizing Davenport, who has meant so much to the game. She fumed, considered suing the WTA -- but got over it as she always has.

At New Haven last week, she made the final after winning four matches (one over No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo), but defaulted midway to Justine Henin-Hardenne.

A severely sore arm made her quit.

``Oh, God, I couldn't go on," Davenport said.

She wanted a day's delay in starting the Open. It was justified, but no go. Thanks, fellows.

``Well, you have to be ready to play a major when they want you," she said uncomplainingly, as usual. ``Actually, it was good I played Monday. The weather gave me Tuesday and Wednesday off. My arm feels fine."

Here's hoping it stays fine, and she makes a strong, stirring run in this her 16th, and probably last, Open. Despite the brief blemishes Davenport put on them, the honeymooners are probably in her corner, too.

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