Tauziat, Novotna share experience, dreams Women's final offers possible last chance at glory for veterans

Wimbledon

July 04, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- Nathalie Tauziat is accustomed to being shoved into the tennis shadows.

She has bickered with her French federation over her choice of coach, fought for recognition as a top world player and tried to reach a Grand Slam final for more than a decade.

And today, she'll try to shine when she faces Jana Novotna in the women's final at Wimbledon.

"I'm somebody who lives my life, and I don't care if I am in the shadow," Tauziat said. "I just want to play my best tennis."

The Tauziat-Novotna may not be a big audience grabber for American television. But it could be compelling up close and personal.

These are veterans making a last-ditch attempt to win Wimbledon.

Tauziat, 30, is the first French woman in a Wimbledon singles final since Suzanne Lenglen in 1925. She's also the first player 30 or older to reach Wimbledon's final since 1994, when 37-year-old Martina Navratilova was runner-up to Conchita Martinez.

And, to add to her remarkable tale, at No. 15 in the world computer, she is the lowest-ranked player to reach a Wimbledon final in the Open era.

Novotna, 29, is a two-time Wimbledon finalist who has absorbed two terrible defeats -- to Steffi Graf in 1993 and to Martina Hingis in 1997. She is out to prove that the third time is the charm.

But to win, she'll have to get past Tauziat.

"I really believe I can play well at Wimbledon," Tauziat said. "I can play pretty well on grass. I said, 'OK, this year you're not injured, you're not tired, so you can go all the way in Wimbledon.' And that's what I do. I take the thing very positively, maybe more than ever, and I am in the final.

"For me, I'm not on the moon already, but almost."

Novotna is on a mission. She beat Hingis, 6-4, 6-4, in the semifinals, playing with the kind of the poise that has eluded her in past failures at Wimbledon.

"I may be old, but I'm still all over the court," she said.

And she has showed the tennis teens something is magical about earning your stardom the hard way, by overcoming constant defeats.

"I told you at the beginning of the tournament that it is very wide open and that anybody can pretty much win it," she said. "I think it will come down to experience, and I think that Nathalie and I are playing very similar tennis. Our tennis is based on experience."

And who will win?

Novotna won't offer a prediction -- just a promise.

@4 "The final will be a race to the net," she said.

Pub Date: 7/04/98

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