Rubin takes another step on road to stardom with third-round win

September 06, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Chanda Rubin was in the tunnel underneath the main stadium at the National Tennis Center, yesterday, going from interview to interview, signing autographs, suddenly coping with fast-approaching stardom.

This was the moment the sport had been waiting for, ever since Rubin came out of Louisiana four years ago, this gangly kid with a terrific baseline game and a fast-ball of a forehand.

Rubin is 16 and making noise at the U.S. Open. She beat Katerina Maleeva in a taut third-round match, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, and suddenly there is a path that could take her to the big time.

One Maleeva sister down. Two to go to the semifinals.

"This was the kind of match I was waiting for," Rubin said. "I'm going to try and do my best. This was a really big breakthrough."

It was big because Rubin appeared to grow-up as a player in a few dramatic moments. Stuck on Court 16, up a break in the final set, poised for a runaway, Rubin hit a detour when a Maleeva "Moon Ball," bounced a foot beyond the baseline, yet was ruled )) in-play by a linesman.

Rubin could have collapsed, but didn't.

"I had to keep concentrating," she said. "I had to forget about it."

What Rubin did was recover in time to win, getting one last break and then watching one last Maleeva forehand sail wide.

L "This is definitely the biggest win of my career," she said.

The victory gave the women's draw a bit of life at the Open. Still reeling from the back-to-back early-round upsets of Martina Navratilova and Jennifer Capriati, the women were engaged in a quirky, yet not very satisfying run at the Open.

As usual, Steffi Graf was taking all the fun out of a morning on the stadium court, walloping Nanne Dahlman, 6-4, 6-2. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario crushed a nearly defenseless Naoko Sawamatsu, 6-1, 6-3. Zina Garrison quietly advanced with a 6-3, 6-1 defeat of Rachel McQuillan.

And then Rubin unloaded all these baseline blasts, turning potential into something tangible.

Her parents, Bernadette and Ed were cheering from court-side. And so were U.S. Tennis Association officials, who have invested a small fortune in her career through a junior training program.

Capriati may be the most visible of the U.S. teen-age stars. But there are a handful of others, including Rubin, poised to make a climb up the world rankings, aided by USTA coaches, stipends and training methods.

"Chanda has the same potential as Capriati, but she's on a slower track," said Lynn Ralley, a USTA national coach.

Rubin began playing as a 5-year-old, joining her parents for afternoon tennis matches on the public courts of Lafayette, La., two hours north of New Orleans. She earned her first state ranking as an 8-year-old.

"I knew we had a prodigy even when she was 5, because she could hit ground strokes from the baseline," said Bernadette Rubin, a retired school teacher who accompanies her daughter on the tour.

But Rubin didn't zoom up the rankings. She didn't even take the pro tour by storm, staying in the background while Capriati grabbed triumphs and endorsements.

"Jennifer really got good at a young age," Rubin said. "I guess she was real dedicated to it. But I am a totally different person, and I am moving at my own pace. I'm happy with my game. I'm just improving. I still want to improve."

But before hitting the tour full-time, Rubin must finish high school. When her Open appearance ends, she'll start her senior year at Episcopal School of Cade, La.

It's unlikely that Rubin can win the Open. But she could make a run. In the fourth round, she'll meet Magdalena Maleeva, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Kimberly Po. And waiting in the wings in the semifinals could be Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere, a 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-2 winner over Andrea Strnadova.

"I've never played any of them before," she said. "Now, I might get all three."

Stardom is approaching. And Rubin just might be ready for the big-time.

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