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Third time the charm

This time, tears of joy as Novotna wins Wimbledon title

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Posted: Saturday July 04, 1998 05:27 PM

  Finally: Novotna won her first Grand Slam title in 45 tries

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- The Duchess of Kent was right. The third time was the right time for Jana Novotna.

Novotna, the losing finalist in 1993 and 1997, won her first Wimbledon title Sunday with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) victory over Nathalie Tauziat.

"Winning Wimbledon means everything, really," Novotna said. "It's what I've been working for many, many years. It's a dream come true."

After Novotna hit a forehand passing shot to end the match, she dropped to her knees, held her arms in the air and covered her face with both hands as she wept with joy.

After embracing Tauziat at the net, she ran up into the players' box in the Centre Court stands, where she hugged her coach, Hana Mandlikova, and her mother, Lina.

Five years ago, Novotna sobbed on the duchess' shoulder after blowing a 4-1 third-set lead in the final against Steffi Graf. Last year, after losing in three sets to Martina Hingis, the duchess encouraged her with the words "third-time lucky."

There were no tears Sunday when Novotna accepted the winner's plate from the duchess. The two held each other's outstretched hands and spoke animatedly for almost a minute.

"She said, `I told you last year if you make it to the final for the third time, it will be third-time lucky and you will make it,'" Novotna said. "She told me she was happy for me to finally win this championship. ... I told her she was absolutely right whatever she told me last year."

When she first took the trophy, Novotna let out a big sigh of relief.

"I don't believe it," she said as she held the trophy over her head, then pressed it to her cheek like a pillow and kissed it gently.

Novotna circled the court and mouthed "thank you" as the 15,000 fans gave her a rousing standing ovation that lasted for several minutes.

Tauziat is 4-5 all-time against Novotna  

Novotna was reluctant to part with the trophy.

"They told me I have to give it back," she said. "So I gave it up but I'm running after it."

While the players walked off, the duchess waved to Novotna, who responded by giving the thumbs-up sign. After being presented with a bouquet of flowers, Novotna handed them to a woman in the front row of the stands.

The victory marked the long-awaited breakthrough for Novotna, long considered the best women's player without a Grand Slam title. She finally accomplished it at the age of 29, playing in her 13th Wimbledon and 45th Grand Slam event.

"I stayed aggressive," Novotna said. "I stayed positive. I really wanted to win and I think I wanted to win just a little more than Nathalie."

Novotna said she was so overwhelmed that she couldn't even remember the final point.

"I had to ask [referee] Alan Mills what did I do on that match point?" she said. "You are in a zone. I was just so pleased."

Novotna dedicated the victory to Mandlikova, her coach of nine years. A fellow Czech, Mandlikova won four Grand Slam titles during the 1980s but never won Wimbledon.

"She made me a better player," Novotna said. "She always believed in myself."

Playing classic grass-court tennis, Novotna controlled the final match from the net. Always on the attack, she served and volleyed, chipped and charged and soared to put away high backhand volleys.

"Today's match didn't bring the best out of us," she said. "We both felt quite a lot of pressure. We wanted to win really so much. Thank God, I was a little more aggressive and I was good at the net."

  Shutting the door: Novotna won the final five points in the second-set tiebreaker to close out the match

For a while, though, it seemed as though Novotna might repeat her 1993 collapse. She led 3-1 and 5-3 in the second set and served for the match at 5-4.

But Novotna played tentatively and was broken for 5-5. After Tauziat held in the next game for 6-5, a third set seemed to be looming.

Novotna said she relaxed too much when trying to serve out the match.

"The whole match from the beginning to the end I was struggling with my serve," she said. "I wasn't putting any first serves in, and Nathalie was all over me. I felt so much pressure on my second serve."

But Novotna held for 6-6 and completely dominated the tiebreaker, winning five straight points from 2-2 to close out the match.

Tauziat seemed to know it was over when she made a forehand error on the sixth point of the tiebreaker. She fell to the ground and dropped her racket in disgust.

With their combined age of 59, Novotna and the 30-year-old Tauziat were the oldest women's finalists at Wimbledon since 1977 when Virginia Wade and Betty Stove totaled 63 years.

Tauziat, the first French women's finalist since Suzanne Lenglen in 1925, was the lowest seeded player (16) in a women's final.

Like Novotna, Tauziat played a natural grass-court game but she lacked the speed and athleticism of her opponent. She also was hurt by her poor first-serve percentage as Novotna punished her repeatedly on the second serve.

"I have nothing to regret," Tauziat said. "It was one of the best days of my life so far and I hope I'm going to do another one next year like I played this year. I'm very happy with what I've done."

Pete Sampras, seeking his fifth title in six years, faces Goran Ivanisevic in the men's final Sunday.

It will be a rematch of the 1994 final, which Sampras won in straight sets. Sampras will be favored to win his fifth title in six years, which would tie him with Bjorn Borg for the most Wimbledon victories in the Open era.

 

Related information
Stories
Sports Illustrated's Inside Tennis with S.L. Price: The service let call may have seen its last Wimbledon. Steffi Graf may have, too
Frank Deford at Wimbledon: Novotna ready -- and deserves -- to grab brass ring
Sports Illustrated's Flashback Look at the 1997 Wimbledon
Stats
Wimbledon Results
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Jana Novotna describes what winning Wimbledon means to her ()
Jana Novotna recounts a conversation with Tauziat at the end of the match ()
Nathalie Tauziat on how she played against Novotna ()
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