TOKYO (Reuters) – A dogged Monica Seles fought back from a set and a break down to beat fellow American Chanda Rubin 4-6 6-4 6-2 on Saturday, setting up a clash with two-times champion Lindsay Davenport in the Pan Pacific Open final.
Davenport also survived a scare against Lisa Raymond in another all-American semi-final, the third seed never really dominating but doing just enough to overcome her doubles partner 3-6 6-1 6-4 at Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium.
The appearance of two former world number ones in the final will come as a huge relief to organizers after Martina Hingis, Jennifer Capriati and Anna Kournikova all pulled out before the start of the $1.3 million event.
Top seed Seles, chasing a first Pan Pacific title, contrived to lose the first set despite holding a 4-1 lead and looked dead and buried when Rubin produced a big forehand to break for 4-3 in the second.
However, that gave Seles the wake-up call she needed and the 29-year-old broke back in the next game with a crunching backhand pass to snuff out any danger of losing to Rubin for the first time in five matches.
Showing no lingering effects from the ankle sprain that contributed to her second-round exit at the Australian Open, Seles leveled the match two games later, firing an unreturnable backhand down the line on her second set point.
The momentum now firmly on her side, she stepped up the pressure in the third set and Rubin cracked in the fourth game, dumping a forehand into the net to give Seles a 3-1 lead.
The nine-times grand slam winner, runner-up to Hingis here last year, was in total control thereafter, wrapping up proceedings on her first match point when Rubin mishit a backhand long after one hour 40 minutes.
“I was really struggling inside after losing the first set. But something inside me said ‘hang in there’ and she didn’t play that one game so great and that gave me a chance,” said Seles.
“Definitely, I was a little bit lucky to get into a third set.”
Davenport, meanwhile, could ill afford to get sentimental against her close friend Raymond, who had upset second seed Jelena Dokic 6-4 6-2 in the quarter-finals on Friday.
Davenport, who beat Hingis to win the Pan Pacific open in 1998 and 2001, lacked any sort of rhythm in the first set but quickly regained her poise to overwhelm Raymond in the second.
The 26-year-old Californian, who had won all 11 previous meetings between the two women, secured the crucial break in the opening game of the final set and never looked in trouble after that.
After closing out with her 11th ace of the semi-final, Davenport will be hoping it is a case of lucky 13 for her on Sunday, having won nine of her 12 matches against Seles.
“Lately, a lot more errors have crept into my game and I know in order to get better I have to get more positive on myself,” said Davenport, who missed much of the 2002 season with a knee injury.
“There is a lot of frustration in general with my game but I was happy to pull through a tough match against my best friend.”