Rubin wary of Graf's pace pace

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Tennis

Chanda Rubin, whose record of marathon matches indicates that she relishes an uphill struggle, is looking forward to the challenge of playing Steffi Graf today in the final of the Lipton Championships.

The 20-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, has yet to embroil Graf in a long, drawn-out contest, losing in straight sets on the three occasions they have met. Indeed, the Wimbledon champion has not conceded more than two games in a set during their matches, two of which were played in 1993 and the third in the fourth round of the United States Open last September.

"For some reason, she hasn't played the best against me," said Graf, who, if the trend continues, will become the first player to win a Lipton singles title for three years consecutively, extending her total to a record five.

"I don't know if Chanda doesn't like to play me, or whatever, but I never really had too much problem with her," Graf added. "But she has been playing a lot better the past few months, so I think it will be a different match.''

Rubin's progress here has improved her world ranking by three places to a career-high of No 6, and she is guaranteed $105,000 (pounds 70,000) even if she fails to win the first prize of $210,000. She trusts that she has learned from her previous experiences against Graf.

"I'm going to try to play solid and come in a little more," she said. "I don't think I did that enough the last time I played her. I certainly learned that, even though it was a pretty quick match.''

Other leading players wish that they also could restrict their meetings with Rubin to brief encounters.

During last year's French Open she lured Jana Novotna into capitulating by fighting off seven match points to win from 0-5, 0-40 in final set. Rubin followed that at Wimbledon by out-lasting the Canadian Patricia Hy-Boulais over 58 games, the most ever played in women's Grand Slam singles match.

In January, it was turn of the spectators at the Australian Open be taken a a roller-coaster ride as Rubin defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 16-14 in the last set of their quarter-final, only to have a 5-2 third-set lead against Monica Seles whittled away in the semi-finals.

This week, the crowds in Florida have been trapped in their seats by Rubin. In the quarter-finals she required six match points to defeat Gabriela Sabatini - three in the second set, three in the third. And in her semi- final against the unseeded Karina Habsudova, Rubin needed three set points for the second set and two match points in the third, the Slovakian finally missing a backhand.

"Hopefully I can pick up my level a little bit and cut down on the errors," Rubin said. "This was the first match where I played somebody who really hit the ball continuously, and towards the last couple of sets I started getting more used to the pace. I think I am probably going to need that tomorrow.''

There were nods of agreement all round.

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