High winds had been the major source of frustration for the players all week, but there was a far more serious distraction yesterday as the final of the Hastings Direct championships in Eastbourne was delayed by more than two hours due to a security threat.
Having received a telephoned bomb alert, tournament officials evacuated the venue. Following extensive searches under the main stand of centre court and around the rest of the grounds, nothing was found. Neither of the finalists, Chanda Rubin and Conchita Martinez, had come on court when the decision to clear Devonshire Park was made, but the scare unquestionably unsettled the players.
Rubin, in particular, struggled with her serve for the first two sets, but survived 10 of the 15 break points against her during the match to retain the title she won here as an unseeded player 12 months ago. She now goes into the All England Championships as a viable outsider. "I'm seeded seventh," she said, "so the minimum target has to be the quarters. But my ultimate aim is to win Wimbledon, and I would love the opportunity of making the final day."
Her opponent would just settle for a shot at the first round. Though disappointed about this 10th defeat in 12 meetings with Rubin, Martinez will be more worried about her injuries. Walking on court with a bandage around her left wrist, she left with another wrapped around her right thigh.
Under the circumstances, it was perhaps no surprise that the first set was a messy affair. Serving, in particular, proved demanding, and it tells you everything that there were 15 break points in the opening 10 games alone. At first, Martinez looked the more nervous of the two, as she lost her opening service game to 15. Rubin, though, proved equally ill at ease, surrendering the following game by the same margin.
It was not until the third game that Martinez found some rhythm on her serve and began to take a little control. The Spaniard, who defeated Martina Navratilova in the 1994 Wimbledon final, was even venturing to the net as she established a 3-1 lead.
Rubin proved during her semi-final defeat of Jennifer Capriati that she is anything but a quitter, rallying from two match points down in the second set to take the match in three, and those battling qualities were evident again yesterday. Having broken back to 2-3, only to then lose her service game again, the American suddenly knuckled down and went on a four-game winning streak to take the first set 6-4. The angled shots that had caused Capriati so much trouble on Friday were being used to good effect again, forcing Martinez into making uncharacteristic errors.
When both players held their next two service games, it appeared that the second set would be far more straightforward. It proved anything but as Martinez saved three break points on her way to winning the fifth game, and then broke Rubin to go 4-2 ahead. That lead was soon increased to 5-2, and Martinez took the set 6-3.
The third set, though, proved to be a step too far for Martinez, as injuries and frustration got the better of the 31-year-old. The trainer was called out twice in the early stages, first to look at her already bandaged left wrist and then for a pain in her right thigh.
In fact, when the Spaniard left the court for treatment, few could have predicted she would then be able to push Rubin quite so hard. Trailing 2-5 and looking down and out, she clawed her way back to 4-5, only to eventually lose the decider 4-6.