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Believe it: Venus wins

Her rally vs. Martina Hingis stuns even the elder Williams.

She drifted around the court for several minutes Friday, gesturing to the 21,940 fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium and repeating the phrase: "Unbelievable."

Indeed, Venus Williams had just completed a U.S. Open semifinal match that you would have had to seen to believe. And Williams survived it, clawing her way out of a third-set hole and stunning top-ranked Martina Hingis 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, not to mention herself.

"Unbelievable," she said again just before exchanging the customary post-match handshake at the net with Hingis.

"It was, because I really wasn't playing well and I was down 5-3 (in the third set)," Williams said several minutes later. "It really seemed like the match was over."

Believe this: After being ousted from Flushing Meadows by Hingis twice in the past three years, Williams got her revenge, and now struts into today's singles final for a shot at the title Hingis denied her in the 1997 final.

This time the final-round opponent is second seed Lindsay Davenport, who put a halt to the remarkable run of unseeded Russian teen Elena Dementieva 6-2, 7-6 (7-5) in the first semifinal.

For the second straight match, the third-seeded Williams faces an opponent who has a better head-to-head record against her. Davenport has won nine of their 14 matches.

"I'm No. 3 (and Davenport is ranked No. 2), but in my heart, I don't feel like I'm walking out there and playing against a player that is better than me," Williams said.

If the final is anything like Williams' semifinal, we're in for a treat. If you could package it and market it, it would only be sold at Lord & Taylor. It was a classic, one of those epics that folks will be talking about for days.

For nearly two hours, Williams and Hingis went at each other like they were the last two people on Survivor. Except for the first set, this match was one long highlight reel packed with more unbelievable stuff than the National Enquirer.

The match essentially came down to the third set, which Hingis led 4-2 and 5-3. After Williams held serve to close to 5-4, Hingis served for the match.

It was perhaps the most extraordinary game of the day, maybe of the tournament, full of long rallies and incredible shotmaking. With a shot that typified the game, Williams ripped a backhand down the line that landed just inside the court to even the set at 5.

Hingis admitted she became less aggressive, laid back and waited for Williams to give her an opening that never came.

"She played better the last four games," Hingis said.

Williams swept the last two, seemingly throwing everything she had into each stroke. She ran her winning streak to 25 matches and her hard-court record this season to 18-0.

"I really didn't want to lose," Williams said. "I felt like this is my opportunity. I deserve to be in the finals, and I just needed to go ahead and get it done."

Davenport looked as if she would blow away her 18-year-old neophyte opponent as everyone expected she would. She led 6-2, 5-2, 40-love and looked in control.

But that was when the lights came on inside Dementieva. Everything from her went up an octave. Everything started catching the lines, pushing Davenport to her limits and eroding the mountain of momentum she had built.

Davenport's serve disappeared, which helped Dementieva fend off those three match points and slowly get back into the match. She broke Davenport's serve again to pull to 5-5, then held serve to lead 6-5.

But in the tiebreak, Dementieva's prince turned back into a frog. She slowly came out of her zone, the one that carried her past more decorated veterans such as Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez in the third round and 10th seed Anke Huber in the quarterfinals.

Errors began creeping into her game. She double-faulted to fall behind 3-2. Then, up 5-4, she hit three straight shots out, the last one a spinning recovery forehand off a lunging defensive lob from Davenport.

Davenport dodged a bullet. Imagine trying to explain how she blew a 5-2, 40-love lead to a teen whose ranking was so low that two years ago, when Davenport won the title here, Dementieva watched it on television.

"That's the way matches go sometimes," Davenport said. "But I've been in that situation before where it gets evened up again and I still pull through them. I would have still tried my hardest in the third, but I was glad to get it over in two."

In a way, Dementieva won, too. With her remarkable run, she attracted interest from sponsors and agents who had been uninterested before this week. Plus, she is expected to make a sizable leap in the rankings, likely to No. 17 from No. 25.

"It's good experience for me," she said. "Right now, I'm upset because I was close in the second set. But in a few days, I will be happy."

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