Tennis: Seeds flourishin the rain

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The Independent Online
THE TRICOLOR flew highest at the Priory Club yesterday as Nathalie Tauziat extended her unbeaten run at the DFS Classic to 12 matches, stretching back over three years, and fellow Frenchwoman Julie Halard-Decugis became favourite to join her in today's final.

Tauziat, the top seed, appearing here for the 13th time, was the champion in 1997 and was leading Steffi Graf in last year's semi-final when persistent rain ended the tournament. Skies were grey and temperatures cool again in the Birmigham suburbs yesterday, and play was delayed for an hour before the first of the semi-finals. It took Tauziat almost an hour and a half, and three sets, to win it 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 against the young Spanish left- hander Magui Serna. It was a good work-out.

Understandably, she was not entirely happy with her game, as increasingly shrill Gallic exclamations of disgust suggested. "It's always tough to play a left-hander on grass," she confirmed later. "I played just a bit better than her."

The Spaniard's strong serve brought her a clutch of early aces, but tended to become an unreliable weapon in time of crisis, resulting in some shooting in the foot. That was the case in the ninth game, as she conceded the first set on a double fault.

The serve stood her in better stead in the second set, and she paved the way to draw level by breaking in the ninth game. A fine backhand volley won perhaps the best rally of the match, before Tauziat misjudged a lob that dropped just inside the line.

Breaks were again rare in the final set, Tauziat's to lead four-two after two excellent passing returns being the crucial one. She is now looking further ahead than a second Birmingham title in three years. "I've won this tournament already so I'm focusing on Wimbledon. If I lose, I know I have more matches at Eastbourne to come before then."

The final might have been a repeat of last year's Wimbledon semi-final, in which Tauziat beat Natasha Zvereva before losing to Jana Novotna in the final. Zvereva, however, had gone out in the quarter-final to Halard- Decusis, who was on the verge of taking the first set from Zimbabwe's Cara Black when rain stopped play.

In between the showers, it has been an eventful week, in which the father of Australia's 17-year-old Jelena Dokic, was ejected, and Holly, the dog belonging to Ann Jones, the tournament referee, made periodic appearances on the centre court. The English setter therefore became the only Briton seen after the first round - all four competitors, including Sam Smith, having departed before the event really got going.

A more encouraging pointer to the weeks - and possibly even years - ahead was the form of Alexandra Stevenson, the American teenager forced to retire from her quarter-final against Serna. Victory over the third seed Dominique van Roost marked her out as one to watch, and her subsequent performances before suffering an abdominal strain will push her into the top 100 for the first time, when new WTA rankings are announced tomorrow.

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