(honest, it's pro-Chanda - he's not bashing V)
She nearly calms storm
Rubin almost weathers the bluster of Williams
By Bud Collins, Globe Columnist, 9/4/2002
EW YORK - She is thinking, ''I've got to weather the storm.''
On Chanda Rubin's embattled mind and in her face is Hurricane Venus, as threatening a presence as any woman can encounter in the game of tennis. Rubin knows she must dig her sneakered feet into the asphalt right now or be blown right out of the US Open and into the nearby Atlantic.
The first set has been a breeze for blustering Venus Williams, 6-2. Williams, on a five-game gust to 1-0 in the second, has just blown two aces past Rubin's futile swings so fast that Rubin thinks she's in a revolving door. This is not the Flushing Meadow fourth-round experience that she and her coach, Benny Sims, had plotted.
''I needed that second game - bad,'' says Rubin, who tried to shelter herself from the 6-foot-2-inch tempest, the reigning champion. Four deuces and a break point passed before she got to 1-1, and Rubin felt that the worst might be over.
It was. Although the all-clear never sounded, Rubin, 26, out of Lafayette, La., a comebacker twice from knee surgery within the last two years, fought the hurricane to a standstill and was one forehand stroke from serving for victory before losing a 6-2, 4-6, 7-5, decision.
As she walked into an arena named for her hero, Arthur Ashe, amid 15,000 onlookers yesterday, Rubin was thinking back five years and what happened here to two young black women.
''I felt honored that I was to play the first match in the new stadium, in 1997,'' she says with a wry smile, ''but I was pretty awful'' - losing to Tamarine Tanasugarn, 6-4, 6-0. ''Venus was almost unknown, but she lasted longer than I did. It was her first Open, but she went all the way to the final, where [Martina] Hingis beat her. I'm pleased she's done so well.''
That's Rubin, all right, soft-spoken, thoughtful, gracious, a woman of whom much - perhaps too much - was expected, and who has overcome several crises of confidence.
During a dreadful slump in 1998, Rubin tried to break out of the doldrums by going downstairs to the minors, entering at Midland, Mich. She was so out-of-synch that a story in the local newspaper suggested Rubin had tanked a first-round loss. Preposterous. You might go to Midland to view the homes conceived by architect Alden Dow, a discipline of Frank Lloyd Wright, but not to sleepwalk through a tennis match. Her game had come apart like a house of cards. Vanished.
''Then Benny Sims and I got together,'' she says of the 49-year-old coach who once headed the Sportsmen's Club's program for city kids in Dorchester, Mass., and served as Longwood Cricket Club's pro. ''I was on my way back up. He understood me, and what I needed to do.''
Sims began a major reconstruction job, bent on restoring Rubin's confidence and utilizing her talents.
''You know,'' Sims says, beginning a thumbnail history of blacks in big league tennis, ''first were Althea [Gibson] and Arthur, winning the US and Wimbledon. There was a lot of pressure on the next to come along, to emulate those two. Zina [Garrison] and Lori [McNeil] did a good job, and so did MaliVai [Washington], but they didn't win majors. The Williams sisters made that breakthrough, which takes a lot of the pressure off others. I think Chanda can do it, too.
''But Chanda's value is showing kids that a smaller person can also compete with the big, extremely athletic women we're getting in the game now.'' At 5-6, Rubin is 8 inches shorter than Venus. ''She has shown they can be beaten by attacking them cleverly, as Chanda did two weeks ago in LA, where she beat Serena Williams and Lindsay Davenport to win the tournament. And today. I think she was within a stroke of beating Venus.''
That moment came late in the third set, Williams serving at 5-5, 15-40, double-breaker. She chased away the first break point with forehand blasts. One critical breaker remained, decided in a tense baseline duel as Rubin moved Williams here and there, looking for an opening. She thought she found it on the 17th stroke, and whapped a forehand - into the tape.
''I went for too much on that shot,'' she says.
''If Chanda wins that point, she'll serve it out at 6-5,'' says Sims.
But the genial coach and his pupil are anything but downcast.
''Coming back from January knee surgery, rejoining the tour at No. 70 in May, and now No. 14 - and going up - that's a triumph,'' he says. ''She worked so hard at rehab. We chose Dr. [Richard] Steadman in Vail [Colo.] for the surgery. He did Joe Montana, John Elway - and Lindsay Davenport - and many others. After that we went to Igor Burdenko in Boston for rehab, to Scottsdale and Munich for other experts. I wasn't going to overlook anything.
''It's not just that Chanda is a wonderful player. She also reminds me of Ashe as a person.
She reaches out. She has a charitable foundation. I feel lucky we got together.''
What she didn't have was a forehand winner on that break point. But Rubin weathered the storm, looked into the eye of Hurricane Venus, and made her blink.