Davenport, Capriati still have work to do

NEW YORK -- Like Hurricanes Frances and Ivan and the vulnerable coasts of Florida, these two American women have been slowly, steadily tracking for a direct hit since the U.S. Open began.

If Lindsay Davenport and Jennifer Capriati win their semifinal matches on Friday as many expect, they will meet in the Saturday night final.

"I mean, we both have to play Russians in the next round," Davenport said after her 6-1, 6-1 quarterfinal victory over Shinobu Asagoe on Thursday night. "I think last year both of us were in the semis and lost to the Belgians. I think we want to change that this year."

Indeed, the Americans flamed out here in the semifinals. Davenport lost in straight sets to Kim Clijsters and Capriati lost a spectacular match to Justine Henin-Hardenne that was decided by a third-set tiebreaker. Henin-Hardenne beat Clijsters in the final and they finished the season ranked first and second on the WTA Tour.

Davenport, the No. 5 seed, is the hottest player in the tournament. She has won 22 consecutive matches, including a straight-sets affair over Venus Williams in the fourth round. Davenport faces Svetlana Kuznetsova, the No. 9 seed and someone she has never played.

"Kuznetsova is probably one of the few players I really have never seen play much," Davenport said. "I've never played her. Know her a little bit, but know she actually has a pretty big serve. Some one said she served at 125, 126 here. So, you know, have to learn some more about her if she wins."

Presumably, Davenport has done her due diligence following Kuznetsova's defeat of fellow Russian Nadia Petrova in the quarterfinals. In women's tennis, holding serve is hardly a guarantee, but Davenport has held serve a staggering 29 times in a row.

Kuznetsova, only 19, is a dangerous player. This is her first Grand Slam semifinal, but last year she made the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and at this year's French Open she had a 6-1, 3-1 lead on Anastaia Myskina in the fourth round. Myskina, the eventual champion, ran her down and prevailed 8-6 in the third set.

"It's the worst tournament I can remember in my life," Kuznetsova said. "I had match in my hands. After, I just started to rush and to do different things. I didn't have to change anything, you know."

And then, the day after she won the tournament in Eastbourne, England, she lost in the first round at Wimbledon to Virginie Razzano, the No. 118-ranked player.

"Of course it hits you in the head and brings you down so much," Kuznetsova said.

She has rallied nicely, winning her first five matches without dropping a set.

"I know that the [U.S. Open] crowd is almost all going to be against me," Kuznetsova said. "I never played Lindsay, it's going to be first time for me. She win all the tournaments she ever played [this summer].

"I think if I believe, I can do it."

Capriati has also been playing well, though you'd never know it to read the newspapers. Lost in the controversial win over Serena Williams -- a horrific performance by chair umpire Mariana Alves dominated accounts of the match -- was a terrific, scrambling effort by Capriati in the quarterfinals.

"Every Slam that I've won, I've had to fight my heart out," Capriati said. "This is also another match where I've had to do that."

Capriati, the No. 8 seed, also has a Russian opponent, No. 6 seed Elena Dementieva. Capriati has won all three of their previous matches. Dementieva was a finalist in the French Open, losing to countrywoman Myskina, but her serve, especially the anemic second offering, has been an Achilles heel. So far at the Open, she has produced a single ace and an amazing 40 double-faults -- and one of her victories came by walkover.

"You're like watching how kind of awkward it looks," Capriati said of Dementieva's second serve. "Watching her do the motion … by the time the ball comes, it's too late. I mean, not even watching the ball anymore."

Dementieva, who is playing with a strained groin muscle, played doubles on Thursday and pronounced herself healthy. She was asked if she anticipated an all-Russian final here.

"If I'm going to be in the final, I don't want to meet a Russian again," Dementieva said, smiling. "I like this American-Russian fight. It's more interesting."

Looking ahead, a Davenport-Capriati final would be a boost to the United States Tennis Association and a nice complement to a possible men's final featuring No. 2 seed Andy Roddick and No. 1 seed Roger Federer. It would also mean that, in this fractured season of women's tennis, eight different women appeared in the four Grand Slam finals.

For what it's worth, Davenport holds a decisive edge, having won nine of 12 previous matches.

"It would be a good storyline," Davenport said. "But it's one match away."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.