Monica Seles produced one of the comebacks of her career to win a place in her fourth Australian Open final by beating the teenager Chanda Rubin in three sets in Melbourne yesterday.
Seles faces the eighth seed, Anke Huber, after the German reached her first Grand Slam final with a three-set win over the South African Amanda Coetzer.
The 22-year-old Seles, favourite to win her ninth Grand Slam title in the absence of the injured Steffi Graf, came back from 5-2 down in the third set to win an epic semi-final 6-7, 6-1, 7-5 against the talented American, who was facing Seles for the first time.
Seles, the joint world No 1 who has suffered niggling injuries throughout the tournament, had to dig deep to level the match in the second set against an inspired Rubin after losing the first on a tie-break.
Rubin, who had beaten the world No 3, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, in a three and a half hour quarter-final, followed the same do-or-die approach and at 5-2 in the deciding set the Centre Court crowd scented an upset. But Seles - never beaten in Australia in 31 matches, 27 of them at the Australian Open - had other ideas.
Seles held serve and at 5-3 she finally cracked Rubin's pounding serve for the first time in the set, and then broke again to set up a remarkable victory and bring the crowd to its feet.
Seles, who won the event three years running before her stabbing in April 1993, said she felt lucky to have reached the final. "I just can't believe it, because at 5-2 I was pretty sure it was goodbye," she said. "I'm very lucky to be in the final."
Rubin, who won a protracted standing ovation for her victory over Sanchez Vicario, said she tried to dominate Seles by going for her shots. "I tried to stay aggressive and I think I did that pretty well. I gave myself chances but I didn't close it out."
Seles, who has beaten Huber twice since coming back from her 28-month lay-off, predicted a hard-hitting final tomorrow. The German lived dangerously against 16th-seeded Coetzer. After losing the first set, she changed tactics and slowed down the pace of the match against the diminutive South African who was chasing down everything.
"I tried to hit too many winners," Huber said. "In the second set I played a little bit smarter, some more topspins, some high balls, I changed the rhythm a little bit and that was the important thing."
n Steffi Graf misses next week's Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo after an operation on a chipped bone in her left foot.
Results, Sporting Digest, page 23