Without the Williams sisters, Lindsay Davenport finds herself the lone American at the WTA Championships, where she and Kim Clijsters are contending for the year-end No. 1 ranking.
Davenport takes a 155-point lead over the second-ranked Belgian into the season-ending tournament that begins Tuesday at Staples Center.
Clijsters' statistics are better than Davenport's, having won nine titles and 66 matches to six tournaments and 58 matches for the American.
"I never thought I could have a season like this," said Clijsters, who missed the tournament last year because of wrist surgery.
Davenport will try to end the year at No. 1 for the fourth time in her career.
"It's a great goal to have and it's a great kind of incentive this week," she said Monday. "If it doesn't happen, it's not something that is going to worry me all that much. Kim totally deserves it."
Clijsters is equally sanguine about regaining the top spot to cap a year in which she won the US Open for her first Grand Slam title.
"It would just make the year even more special, but it's not like it's on my mind now," she said.
"If it happens, great. If it doesn't, that's not going to make my year worse," Clijsters said.
Davenport and Clijsters both have played well since the US Open, where the American lost a three-set quarterfinal to Elena Dementieva.
Davenport won all three of the tournaments she played since; Clijsters won two of three.
Davenport was to open yesterday against Russian Nadia Petrova, while Clijsters took on Mary Pierce, and Maria Sharapova played Patty Schnyder in a round-robin format that will decide the four semifinalists. Dementieva and Amelie Mauresmo are in action today.
"I feel like I've never really played all that well at Staples, and I'd like to change that," said Davenport, a four-time finalist who has won the season-ending championships once.
Ending its four-year run in Los Angeles before moving to Madrid next year, the tournament is without the Williams sisters, who failed to qualify for the eight-player field. Bothered by injuries, Australian Open winner Serena and Wimbledon champion Venus took the rest of the year off after losing in Beijing in September.
French Open winner Justine Henin-Hardenne qualified, but is out with a hamstring injury.
"It definitely would make it more exciting if three of the four Grand Slam winners were here," Davenport said. "You can't force someone to go out on the court when they don't feel like they want to compete at this level."
Clijsters, the 2003 winner, missed last year while recovering from wrist surgery.
"I'm just happy to be here after just watching it on TV last year," she said. "The goal I set at the start of this year was trying to get to the championships, and I did. I want to play as well as I have been throughout this whole year."
Sharapova is the defending champion and the only other player besides Davenport and Clijsters to reach No. 1 this year, having spent seven weeks at the top between August and last month. She reached the semifinals at three of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
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