Ann Grossman, a Midwest farmer's daughter who is winless in six years on the tour, outlasted seventh-seeded Julie Halard of France, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, on Saturday in the semifinals of the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles in Manhattan Beach.
Grossman advanced to today's final against Sabine Appelmans of Belgium or Amy Frazier.
Grossman has made three-setters a habit during the tournament, going the distance in four of five matches. She put together three-set upsets of second-seeded Martina Navratilova in the third round and No. 5 Zina Garrison-Jackson in Friday's quarterfinals en route to her first final of the year.
Halard, who was the highest seeded player in the semifinals, raced through the first set in 26 minutes.
"I was just really stiff and I wasn't reading the ball that well," Grossman said of her slow start in the 120-degree playing conditions. "I just hung in there and came up with some huge shots and I think that frustrated her."
Grossman began her turnaround in the sixth game of the second set when Halard netted a service return. She won eight consecutive games to even the match at a set apiece and take a 4-0 lead in the third.
Halard, who defeated Grossman in three sets in their only other meeting in 1991 on hard courts, completely unraveled at the end of the second set. She double faulted three times, including set point.
"I wasn't feeling good this morning," said Halard, who is ranked 18th. "I knew I could win this match. I had chances, but I just couldn't fight anymore."
Halard salvaged only one of four service breaks in the third set and meekly netted a forehand service return on match point.
"I came out playing pretty dumb, but I worked my way into it," Grossman said. "If things are going that bad and I can turn things around, that says something. I mentally broke her down and I was physically stronger."
Grossman, 23, grew up on a farm outside Columbus, Ohio, hitting balls against a plywood wall her father installed in the family's cement-floor barn. With cows as her company, Grossman practiced the groundstrokes that usually keep her glued to the baseline.
"This is where it's all paying off," said Grossman, whose father died three years ago.
Ranked 46th, she has been in eight finals since turning pro in 1988 and lost them all.
Grossman was hopeful that reaching the final would make her front-page news in today's Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch sports section. The aspiring model still lives in suburban Grove City.
"They had an article about it but I wasn't on the front page," she said. "I was like, 'Come on, it doesn't get any better. What do I need to do?' "