Past miseries no concern of Novotna Facing V. Williams next, she looks ahead, not back


July 01, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- For Jana Novotna, the losses hang out there, unmentioned but unforgettable.

Nobody brings up Wimbledon 1993, when Novotna handed the title to Steffi Graf and wept on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder. And Wimbledon 1997 is simply a distant memory, when Novotna faded in the third set and let a smiling kid named Martina Hingis steal the title.

This year, Novotna is trying to build a new resume, and trying to write some tennis history.

With yesterday's 6-2, 6-3 victory over Irina Spirlea, Novotna advanced to today's most enticing quarterfinal match of the tournament, a meeting with No. 7 Venus Williams.

"I think that is a pretty big match; pretty interesting," Novotna said.

Novotna-Williams is a grass-court slugfest waiting to happen. Novotna is a serve-and-volley stylist, a 29-year-old veteran yearning for a title to define her career as a champion.

And Williams, 18, is the tour's blossoming star, a big-serving, all-court player who is still learning the game's finer points and refers to a sheaf of notes during every match. In her round-of-16 match, Williams put on a brilliant display of power tennis, overwhelming Virginia Ruano Pascual, 6-3, 6-1.

Another veteran player with jitters might be daunted by facing a rising star on a roll. But not Novotna, who has beaten Williams in their only previous match. Novotna likes to face her fears straight going back to Centre Court time and time again, even though it's been the setting for her greatest failures.

"I had a chance to stay there a little bit," Novotna said of a pre-tournament visit to Centre Court. "I said, 'Hi' to the court and told him it's nice to be back."

Nothing seems to rattle Novotna these days, not even an inadvertent slight from Williams, who said the toughest player on her side of the draw was her youngster sister, Serena. Later, Venus Williams said she didn't mean to leave out Novotna, it's just that she doesn't look ahead in the draw.

"If she feels that way, that's absolutely fine," Novotna said. "But I think there are so many other good players in the field that I don't think that she's the only one."

Is all that teen-aged candor good for the sport?

"I guess that's the way the young American kids are brought up nowadays," Novotna said. "Certainly, you can't change anybody's mind and if that's the way they feel about themselves and about their game, that's absolutely fine."

Venus Williams has gained confidence with each victory. Yesterday, she won one for her sister Serena, who had to retire with an injury during her third-round match against Ruano Pascual.

"I wanted to win every point, all the points that Serena couldn't win," Venus Williams said.

In another compelling quarterfinal, No. 1 Hingis will meet No. 5 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Hingis advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Tamarine Tanasugarn. Sanchez Vicario, a two-time losing finalist, defeated Dominique Van Roost, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

"She's the favorite, and that can help me," said Sanchez Vicario, who is 1-5 lifetime against Hingis. "I'll try to start well, take my chances and be aggressive."

Today's featured matches

Men's fourth round

Pete Sampras (1), U.S., vs. Mark Philippoussis, Australia

Petr Korda (3), Czech Republic, vs. Tim Henman (12), Britain

Women's quarterfinals

Martina Hingis (1) , Switzerland, vs. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (5), Spain

Jana Novotna (3), Czech Republic, vs. Venus Williams (7), U.S.

Monica Seles (6), U.S., vs. Natasha Zvereva, Belarus

Nathalie Tauziat (16), France, vs. Lindsay Davenport (2), U.S.

Pub Date: 7/01/98

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