Wimbledon 99: Zvereva bemused by fighting comeback

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NATASHA ZVEREVA is known as one of the most laid-back characters on the tennis circuit, but you have to be cool to give your opponent a nine-game start in a final and still win.

After 23 minutes of Saturday's final of the Direct Line championships, Nathalie Tauziat led Zvereva 6-0, 3-0, as memories of the Belarussian's 1998 French Open final whitewash against Steffi Graf flooded back. After 100 minutes Zvereva raised her arms in triumph as a Tauziat backhand crashed into the net to give the 28-year-old from Minsk a 0-6, 7-5, 6-3, victory.

Zvereva was clearly fighting stiffness left over from her 3hr 28min semi- final against Amanda Coetzer on Friday night. But suddenly the pressure was on Tauziat, the Frenchwoman admitting that she began to think of victory prematurely, and that let Zvereva back in.

Twice in the second set Tauziat came within two points of victory, but Zvereva's confidence was growing and the wind began disrupting the rhythm of Tauziat's hitherto smooth groundstrokes.

Tauziat had four break points at 1-1 in the decider, but Zvereva hung on as the next five games all went against serve. Impervious to this being her 71st game in 24 hours, Zvereva claimed her fourth career title and her first for five years.

"I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to winning in singles," Zvereva said, "because I haven't won many. Talent's got nothing to do with it. You have to have motivation and that's very difficult for me."

The Eastbourne champion normally goes to Wimbledon as one of the favourites, but this final probably says more of the fragile match temperament of Tauziat than about Zvereva. "This is a bad defeat," she said, "I don't know how I'm going to get it out of my system."

Zvereva said her victory meant nothing regarding her chances for Wimbledon. "I have a tough first round. Wimbledon is a whole new ball game."