Tennis: Tauziat's tenacity halts charge by Kournikova

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The Independent Online
AS ONE of tennis's oldest venues Devonshire Park has seen its fair share of dramatic matches, but few rival yesterday's semi-final here between Anna Kournikova and Nathalie Tauziat.

The parallels between Eastbourne and the fictitious Walmington-on-Sea of Dad's Army were already strong when a fan emulated Corporal Jones by shouting "Don't panic, Nathalie" as the Frenchwomen trailed 1-3 in the final set. In fact, Kournikova extended that lead to 5-1 before Tauziat rallied for an unlikely 6-4, 4-6, 8-6 victory. It was a remarkable comeback by last year's Wimbledon runner-up, who had seen her game disintegrate after a commanding performance in the first two sets. "Maybe I'm a fighter," she said with nonchalant Gallic understatement.

For Kournikova it was a painful lesson and Tauziat suggested the Russian needs better volleys and a more threatening serve if she is to win Wimbledon one day.

Despite Kournikova's oft-repeated belief that grass is her best surface, it was only when some exemplary grasscourt play by Tauziat in the first three games sent her a powerful signal that playing from the baseline was no way to win that the Russian started coming to the net. The effect was immediate - she broke back and looked a match for Tauziat, but at 4-5 she abandoned the habit, stayed back, and was promptly broken to love.

With Tauziat leading 6-4, 3-1 the match seemed decided. "I had it in my pocket," she said, but her pocket had a big hole. Her serve started going wrong, it dragged her forehand down with it and, after 67 minutes. Kournikova levelled the match.

When Kournikova took her second break of the decider to lead 4-1, Tauziat's game had all but collapsed, but at 1-5 the Frenchwoman decided to step in and take the ball earlier, and suddenly things swung her way. She won the next four games for the loss of just three points, the Russian never getting close to victory.