Rubin thunders back as Capriati collapses on verge of victory

Tennis: Defending champion launches counterattack from match point down while British No 2 continues comeback with impressive win
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The Independent Online

Jennifer Capriati breathed new life into the sporting adage of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory when she blew the chance of a place in today's final of the Hastings Direct tournament here.

Chanda Rubin's 2-6, 7-6, 6-2, victory over Capriati from match point down means the defending champion, will face the 1994 Wimbledon finalist, Conchita Martinez, for the most prestigious women's grasscourt title after Wimbledon. The veteran Spaniard beat Silvia Farina Elia 6-2, 6-4.

Rubin's escape lends itself to a rich array of sporting clichés. In a match of two very distinct halves, Rubin took each point as it came, bounced back from 2-6, 3-5, 15-40 down, and left Capriati as sick as a parrot.

What made the turnaround remarkable was that there was no hint of it at the turning point. When Capriati arrived at match point, they had played 55 minutes, Capriati had won all the crucial points by landing powerfully struck flat groundstrokes into the last foot of Rubin's court, and Rubin admitted she just wanted to stay out there for a couple more games to make the score respectable.

Although only one ranking place separates the two (Rubin seventh, Capriati eighth), the latter's dominance made her look the tenant in the world's top 10 and Rubin the guest. Capriati was playing the more intelligent tennis, moving her opponent around the court, and running down ill-judged drop shots.

Rubin thundered down two unreturnable serves to save both match points, which proved the first of eight straight points that took her back to 5-5.

Though Capriati led 5-4 in the tie-break, the tide had turned, the conditions were getting increasingly windy, and Rubin was now the one at the net rather than trying to lull Capriati there.

In the final set Capriati lost all bite in her groundstrokes, failing to punish some weak Rubin second serves. And she couldn't hold serve - by the time she did, Rubin led 5-1. Up to her match points, Capriati had won 11 out of 16 games - after them, Rubin won 10 out of 13, winning the match 50 minutes after being a point from losing it.

Rubin is often tagged "the daughter of a Louisiana judge", which though factually accurate hardly reflects her true background. Her grandparents were farm labourers who improved their lot by trading in animals, and once sold their prized hog so Rubin's mother could go to university. As a result, Rubin is always appreciative of what she achieves on the tour, and described yesterday's victory with typical understatement as "a great learning experience".

It may prove more of that for Capriati, whose last title came at the Australian Open 17 months ago. She says Eastbourne has "not much to get frazzled up about", but she got seriously frazzled up about the wind, and hinted this may be her last visit. "Now I feel I have to get my rhythm and timing back," she said. "It got windier and windier, I couldn't hit the ball on the serve in the same place twice. I need to forget about this."