MADRID (Reuters) — Top seed Monica Seles fought her way back from a set down to reach the final of the Spanish Open clay-court tournament with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-3 win over gutsy Argentine Paola Suarez on Friday.
The three-time French Open winner will now face Chanda Rubin in Saturday’s final, after the American swept to an easy 6-4, 6-2 victory in her semi against Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia.
“It was a very hard-fought match decided on just a crucial few points,” said Seles.
“Paola served very well and I had a hard time breaking her. It was good to play someone as aggressive as her because I expect the same in tomorrow’s final.”
Suarez, who lost to Lindsay Davenport in the 1999 final, gave a gritty performance throughout and edged a tightly contested first set thanks to a break in the seventh game.
The 25-year-old Argentine pulled off numerous well-judged passing shots and forced Seles off the baseline with some delicate drop shots to go up 5-4. She then unleashed two impressive aces to finish the set with a flourish.
But the early setback brought the best out of the 28-year-old Seles, who began to find her range on her serve and her trademark two-handed drives. She dropped just one game as she raced through the second set.
Suarez, though, refused to fold and kept the pressure on Seles with her hard-hitting returns.
The turning point in the match came in the fifth game of the final set when Seles pulled off some pin-point passing shots to come back from 40-love down and break the Suarez serve.
With the next three games going with serve, Seles then showed she could move up a gear when she really needed to and broke the Suarez serve again to clinch the match.
Rubin, playing only her third tournament since recovering from knee surgery, produced a controlled performance against Zuluaga and was rarely troubled by her lower-ranked opponent.
A series of miscued forehands from the Colombian helped the hard-hitting Rubin break serve in the third game of the opening set and the American’s well-judged drives gave her opponent little chance to take the initiative.
Although Rubin dropped her serve in the eighth game after Zuluaga pressured her into a series of forehand errors, she hit back immediately with another break to lead 5-4 and serve out to win the first set.
Zuluaga, who reached the final in Madrid two years ago, produced several deft drop-shot winners to lead 2-0 at the beginning of the next set.
But Rubin immediately broke back and then twice more in the fifth and the seventh to lead 5-2 before serving out for victory.