Novotna's letdown gives Rubin lift FRENCH OPEN


PARIS -- Jana Novotna wasn't thinking about her collapse in the 1993 Wimbledon final, but Chanda Rubin certainly was.

In a loss even more stunning than when she fell to Steffi Graf and cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent, the fifth-seeded Novotna somehow managed to blow a 5-0, 40-0 lead in the third set, and lost to the unseeded Rubin, 7-6 (10-8), 4-6, 8-6, yesterday in the French Open.

Playing on Center Court for the first time, Rubin said she was quite aware of Novotna's sad history in Grand Slam events. She said she thought about Novotna's loss to Graf during yesterday's match.

"Watching that final was painful to see," Rubin, 19, said. "I started thinking about it during the match today and knew that I would always have a chance if I stayed mentally tough and kept fighting no matter what the score was. When I fell behind in the third, I thought about how she choked that Wimbledon final, so I didn't give up."

Against Graf, Novotna was leading 4-1 in the third set. One point away from 5-1, she double-faulted and proceeded to lose the last five games. But just as in 1993, Novotna insisted yesterday that she did not choke.

"Even though I was ahead, I never felt I had the match under control," said Novotna. "I really didn't have to work hard to get to 5-0, 40-0. Chanda was missing easy shots, and the games were very, very fast. But at this stage, I still saw in her face that she was telling me that this wasn't finished yet.

"I still tried my hardest but from that point she didn't make any mistakes, nothing at all. But this still raises the question [about my nerves]. If I had come back from match point down, it would be a different story. But now it is easier to criticize. This is tennis though and we are only human beings."

When asked if her mind wandered back to Wimbledon, Novotna said, "No, not at all."

Novotna capitalized on Rubin's string of unforced errors in the second set and beginning of the third. But the relaxed and often smiling American kept firing forehands and passing shots by Novotna, who constantly glanced at her coach, Hana Mandlikova, for support.

For Rubin, whose father is a district court judge in Lafayette, La., the victory was the breakthrough she had been waiting for since turning pro four years ago. Although Rubin has come close several times to beating top 10 players, lapses in concentration had cost her the titles and the notoriety that have come so easily to fellow American Lindsay Davenport.

In fact, after losing to Davenport in the first round here last year and frustrated with her erratic results, Rubin turned to United States Tennis Association coach Jose Higueras, who masterminded Jim Courier's ascension to the top. In six months, Rubin has added variety to her game to complement her powerful, flat ground strokes, and breathing techniques to help her relax during matches.

"This is definitely my best win and most dramatic win of my career," said Rubin, who will next face unseeded Ai Sugiyama of Japan. "I try not to think about what other people say about my game or react to what I'm doing. I've really improved in the last year, but it is a continual process."

In a late Center Court match, seventh seed Michael Stich withstood a valiant comeback by France's Arnaud Boetsch for a 6-2, 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 6-3 victory. Inspired by the crowd, Boetsch -- the last Frenchman in the draw -- fought back to force a fifth set but came up short in the draining, 3-hour, 42-minute match.

Third-seeded Boris Becker was in danger of elimination, trailing 6-3, 6-4, to 128th-ranked Romanian qualifier Adrian Voinea when their match was suspended by darkness. Their match will be resumed today.

Two-time defending champion Sergi Bruguera was leading 6-3, 6-2, 3-3, against Brett Steven when play was called.

Todd Martin, the No. 14 seed, was ousted in straight sets by Andrei Chesnokov, 6-2, 6-2, 6-4.

In other men's matches, No. 6 seed Michael Chang downed Tomas Carbonell, 6-1, 6-2, 7-5, and 10th seed Magnus Larsson beat Jacco Eltingh of the Netherlands, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.

In women's play, defending champion and top-seeded Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat Beate Reinstadler, 6-3, 6-1, and No. 3 Mary Pierce routed Florencia Labat, 6-2, 6-2.

Davenport, the seventh seed, lost the first set but recovered to overpower 14-year-old Martina Hingis, 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

Anna Smashnova, an 18-year-old native of Belarus whose family emigrated to Israel in 1990, upset 14th-seeded Amy Frazier 6-1, 6-2. Also winning were No. 12 Iva Majoli and No. 9 Kimiko Date.

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