Novotna's Open set built on confidence

September 08, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Jana Novotna was about to serve for the second set in her quarterfinal match at the U.S. Open yesterday, when suddenly the Stadium Court crowd lost its voice.

"I stopped and looked up," said No. 7 seed Novotna, after eliminating No. 4 seed Mary Pierce, 6-4, 6-0. "It was so quiet. I thought, 'Oh, my God. They think this is Wimbledon all over again.' And then I heard this tiny, little 5-year-old voice in the stands behind me say, 'Come on, Jana, you can win.' And, of course, then I had to."

Since Wimbledon 1993, Novotna has had difficulty playing with a lead.

In that Wimbledon final, she was one point from being up 5-1 on Steffi Graf in the third set of their championship match, when she began to fall apart.

Graf came back to win, 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 6-4, and Novotna fell sobbing into the arms of the Duchess of Kent.

"I don't even remember that match," Novotna said, grinning. "I do remember what happened after it, but that was so long ago now. I do not think about it."

She had another disappointing match at Wimbledon this July, losing her quarterfinal match to Martina Navratilova, 7-5, 0-6, 1-6, but here she is exuberant, smiling and in control.

A butterfly emerged from a Wimbledon depression.

She is in her third semifinal match of the season and her first Grand Slam semifinal since that fateful 1993 Wimbledon.

"I feel so good," she said.

And who is her next opponent?

Steffi Graf.

"Steffi, again," said Novotna, with a mock grimace.

When she made those two semifinals earlier this season, it was Graf who met her there and stopped her.

"Who makes these seedings?" Novotna said jokingly.

Novotna, much like No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini, has been pretty much ignored as a contender.

But yesterday, Novotna continued her straight-sets march into the semifinals and afterward laughed and joked and said how much she likes it here.

"I am able to concentrate out there," said the 25-year-old, who has played here eight years and never made it this far. "For the first time at the Open, everything that is happening around the court, all the distractions are helping me.

"I think you just have to keep coming back. My coach told me that once you get the people excited about your tennis it works for you.

"You know New York fans are very demanding. They want excitement. They want to see you angry. They do not want to see an ace.

"They say, 'Pooh, an ace, so what?' I'm happy with an ace. I'm excited about an ace, but you have to give them more. So you see, I am smiling out there. I want to throw my arms in the air and say, 'Everybody look, I am smiling!' "

She is the happy Czech. Her game is sharp. Her determination strong.

"I thought I was hitting great shots out there and she was hitting them back and hitting them deep," said Pierce. "I was surprised she stayed on the baseline so much, but she had such rhythm today, nothing I did -- and I tried drop shots, hitting softer, hitting high balls -- nothing disrupted her.

"Everyone knows -- everyone has seen it -- that she can get nervous, but you can't rely on that and she certainly didn't get tight today and if she plays like this, I think she can beat Steffi."

Graf, the No. 1 seed, barely had to stop on Stadium Court yesterday to pick up a 6-0, 6-2 victory over No. 11 seed Amanda Coetzer.

"My serve is working very well and the last two matches, my concentration was right on," said Graf. "Hopefully, I will approach my match [with Novotna] the same way."

Novotna has been playing from the baseline here, but she also has demonstrated an ability to come to the net, mix her shots and change the pace.

But what will she do against Graf?

"Secret," she whispered slyly. "If I tell you, then Steffi will read it and then what will I do?"

But she knows to beat Graf she will have to come to the net with purpose. When they met in those two clay-court semifinals earlier this year, at the Citizen's Cup in Hamburg, Germany, and the German Open in Berlin, Novotna lost 3-6, 3-6 and 2-6, 3-6, respectively.

"This one should be different," said Novotna. "But I am not looking beyond Steffi. It is Steffi now. After that, who cares? First I have to beat Steffi."

MEN

Singles, fourth round

Todd Martin (9), Palm Coast, Fla., def. Bernd Karbacher, Germany, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4. Andre Agassi, Las Vegas, def. Thomas Muster (13), Austria, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-0.

Doubles, semifinals

Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, Australia (4), def. Nicklas Kulti and Magnus Larsson, Sweden, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).

WOMEN

Singles, quarterfinals

Steffi Graf (1), Germany, def. Amanda Coetzer (11), South Africa, 6-0, 6-2. Jana Novotna (7), Czech Republic, def. Mary Pierce (4), France, 6-4, 6-0.

Doubles, quarterfinals

Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natalia Zvereva, Belarus (1), def. Katrina Adams, Houston, and Manon Bollegraf, Netherlands (6), 6-2, 6-2.

AMERICAN WOMEN OUT

With Gigi Fernandez's elimination from the U.S. Open, this marks the third time there will be no Americans in the women's semifinals:

* 1963: Margaret Smith, Australia; Maria Bueno, Brazil; Deidre Catt, Britain; Ann Haydon Jones, Britain.

* 1993: Steffi Graf, Germany; Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere, Switzerland; Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain; Helena Sukova, Czech Republic.

* 1994: Graf; Sanchez Vicario; Jana Novotna, Czech Republic; Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina.

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