Rubin Shows No Fear in Losing to Venus Williams
By SELENA ROBERTS
Whipping up an improbable set point, Chanda Rubin moved Venus Williams around the court with the assertiveness of a stage director, cracking ground strokes as hard as countertops into each corner, testing the elasticity of her opponent's vast reach.
Then, Rubin did what few can stomach. Venturing into the teeth of Williams's swipes, Rubin ran to the net during the rally and handled a rifle shot with a cotton-soft drop volley that plopped over the tape for a winner.
One point later, Rubin had the second set in hand, rewarding the sun-drenched crowd inside Arthur Ashe Stadium for playing hooky from the office.
They got to witness an aberration, a player who refused to duck into a foxhole at the sight of a Williams sister, a woman determined not to give in to Venus-Serena phobia.
Maybe Rubin did not have quite enough oomph to overcome Venus — losing by 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in the Round of 16 at the United States Open — but she did leave a trail of bread crumbs for other players to follow. It is called videotape.
Instead of complaining about Williams-sisters fatigue, instead of resigning themselves to defeat before they play Venus or Serena, some players could learn how to confront their fears by applying Rubin's aggressive strategy.
"I wouldn't say they should take me as an example, but I do feel that talk is just that; it's talk," said Rubin, who went to the net 32 times. "They deserve to be where they are. They've gone out and they've beaten people. If they're in the finals against each other, it's because they've beaten everybody along the way to get there. If you have the opportunity to play them and you don't win, you don't stop one or the other from getting there, I think it's pointless to then complain about it. That's how I see it, how I approach it.
"I think it's pretty sad if you step out on the court and you don't feel you can beat the opponent. Then why go out there? Why train and try to get better if you don't feel that it's going to have some benefit when you get into the actual matches? That's just my mentality going out there."
Straightforward, with no hesitation in her stance, that is how the 14th-seeded Rubin played Venus Williams, who lost a set for the first time at this Open. Unseeded Yelena Bovina had the same idea, wanting to apply pressure on fourth-seeded Lindsay Davenport with her deceptively powerful strokes. But once Davenport recalibrated her forehands and backhands, and lifted the level of her play, Bovina could not keep up, losing her quarterfinal match to Davenport, 3-6, 6-0, 6-2.
A day ahead of Venus Williams's side of the draw because of rain earlier this week, Davenport moved on to the semifinals, where she will meet top-seeded Serena Williams, a winner last night after derailing Daniela Hantuchova's run, 6-2, 6-2, ending the match on her 12th ace.
Davenport, like Rubin, has enough self-confidence and experience at age 26 to look forward to a Williams match as a challenge, not a chore.
"The players, everyone, is going to have to raise their level," Davenport said. "If anyone else wants to get into the mix and really be talked about in the same breath as Venus and Serena, you have to raise the level of your game and you have to do it at a big moment like the U.S. Open, like any Slam."
Rubin almost made such a statement. Bold in her serve-and-volley journeys to the net, clever in mixing up the pace that left Venus off kilter, and quick to the kinds of shots her opponent is used to tallying up as winners, Rubin came within two break points of serving for the match.
Venus Williams ended the threat by remembering who she is. She is the one who is supposed to control the points, put pressure on her opponent and deliver the winner on demand. Within 15 minutes, she erased both break points by pushing Rubin into a difficult forehand passing shot. Then Williams conjured up a short ball that she was able to crush for a forehand winner.
To set up match point on Rubin's serve, Williams found faith in that erratic forehand with two big rips at the ball, leading to a backhand winner. On match point, she confidently pummeled a forehand winner to end Rubin's upset plans.
"I was thinking a little bit; this is how I used to play in '98, back in the day," said Venus Williams, who made the majority of her 41 unforced errors on her forehand and hit only 58 percent of her first serves. "I don't like to go backward to those times. Those were tough times for me. I like to live pretty much in the present, or play like I'm playing now and not digress."
Now, Venus can look ahead. In the quarterfinals, she will face sixth-seeded Monica Seles, who upset her at the Australian Open but could not pull off an encore at the French.
Seles barged her way into the next round, outlasting the attention span of Martina Hingis, 6-4, 6-2. During the grind of the longest rallies, Hingis suffered writer's block. Unsure how to construct the next point, flustered by indecision, Hingis's head went blank during the long rallies. But in her third event back since ankle surgery, Hingis was surprisingly satisfied with her progress.
"In a way, I thought maybe, looking at the draw, I had a chance to at least make it to the quarterfinals, then play Venus," Hingis said. "But Monica played well."
Still, Hingis sounded mentally defeated, as if the tour of power players had passed her by. Rubin is not the biggest player on the tour, but she has the speed to stay in the chase with players like Venus Williams and the daring to go face-to-face at the net, the only way to wrestle control of the point away from a brute.
Rubin's blueprint worked to a point. After defeating Serena Williams and Davenport three weeks ago at a tour event in Manhattan Beach, Calif., Rubin didn't slip up on Venus Williams. Rubin's 63-mile-an-hour serves did, however. It was almost a trick shot.
"Sometimes, on those slow serves, I just couldn't," said Venus Williams, who blasted many of those puffy serves long. "They were so slow."
Slow, but effective. On one point, Venus had nothing to grab onto. On the next, she could not handle the fire behind Rubin's forehand.
If there is one shot that turns on Venus Williams, it is her forehand. Rubin kept challenging it until Williams finally believed it was going to go in, just in time to save her serve, then win the match.
"The point and the goal was just to make the moves and keep coming in, let her see that I was going to keep attacking," Rubin said. "She's going to get balls. She's going to keep fighting. I feel like I'm going to do the same thing.
"It's disappointing not to win when the chances were there. You look up, you're right there for the match."
Rubin was not surprised by how close she came. She expected to win.
"Everybody has weaknesses; everybody can be beaten," Rubin said. "That's just a fact."
EXCELLENT MATCH CHANDA!
ONWARD AND UPWARD VENUS!