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Pick a tennis tactic and it will be on display today in the women's semifinals at the U.S. Open.

The power game will be represented by big hitters Venus Williams and Lindsay Davenport, who figure to slug it out in one pairing.In the other, defending champion Martina Hingis will match her shotmaking guile against the serve-and-volley game of suddenly serene Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna.

Williams and Davenport are the tallest players on the tour and love power tennis. Both are bidding for their first Grand Slam championship, although Davenport reached the semifinals and Williams the final in New York a year ago.

``Last year was my first semifinal,' said Davenport, who is ranked No. 3 in the world and was seeded second in the Open. ``I was extremely nervous. I didn't play great. I played OK. In the semifinals, you have to play great.'

Since then, Davenport has reached Grand Slam semis at the Australian and French Opens and lost in the quarters at Wimbledon to Nathalie Tauziat, a defeat she avenged in the Open.

She followed with three straight summer hardcourt tournament victories, winning two of the finals against Williams and Hingis, and arrives at the semis at the top of her game.

``I haven't lost a set,' she said. ``I've been pretty focused on what I want to do. Winning those three tournaments on a hardcourt gave me the confidence to come in. Mentally, I feel great. Physically, I feel pretty good. Hopefully, it will be there Friday.'

Williams, the No. 5 seed, has lost four of five lifetime meetings against Davenport but displayed gritty tennis in rallying past Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario in the quarterfinals.

She also showed some interest in coming to the net, where her long arms and legs allow to cover a lot of the court.

``In the past, I didn't have any dedication to coming into the net,' she said. ``I had made camp on the baseline. Recently, I broke camp because I saw that a lot of the shorter players were serving and volleying. I wondered why I couldn't get myself to the net.'

But she could and she did, winning 16 of 19 points there in the last two sets of her comeback victory over Sanchez-Vicario.

Williams, who lost to Hingis in last year's Open finals, believes she's better prepared now.

``I think I make more intelligent decisions,' she said. ``I'm able to really fight out there. I think last year I played well also. There's nothing more I could have done. There's nothing more I can do about last year.'

Hingis' victory in the finals last year was her third Grand Slam championship of the season. She followed by winning this year's Australian Open and losing in the French semifinals to Monica Seles. At the Wimbledon semis she lost to Novotna, her doubles partner, who went on to win the title.

Those losses shook Hingis but she thinks they helped her refocus.

``Some matches I just would somehow hit the ball, but I didn't know what I was doing,' she said. ``I just somehow was always too confident. I went out there and was just going into the match, not really thinking about what I'm doing out there.'

That's changed at the Open.

``I'm a different player again,' she said.

Hingis beat Seles in the Open quarters and now gets a chance to square things with Novotna in the semis. She remains No. 1 in the world and a win today will keep her there, no matter what happens in the finals.

``I feel good, so don't take that away from me,' she said. ``I think my game has improved a lot. If I really want, I can do well again.'

Novotna has been on cruise control since winning Wimbledon for her first Grand Slam victory, equipped with confidence in herself and her game. Seeded No. 3, she knows playing Hingis offers a major challenge.

``We have big respect for each other,' she said. ``And I think that's why we make such a good team when we are playing together and why we are such great opponents when we play against each other in singles matches.'

They warmed up for their showdown by advancing Thursday to the finals of women's doubles.


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