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Bowing out with grace
Former Wimbledon champion Novotna retires
Posted: Tuesday September 07, 1999 01:53 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- Surrounded by teen-agers with booming serves and ground games to match, Jana Novotna decided Monday to leave tennis, announcing her retirement at the U.S. Open.
Novotna, who will be 31 next month, said she would keep her tournament commitments for the remainder of the year and then put away her rackets.
"I've been thinking about this for a very long time," she said. "It's really difficult to point out one thing. I just feel the time for it is right."
Novotna's decision comes less than a month after longtime rival Steffi Graf announced her own retirement.
"It is very ironic, actually," Novotna said. "When I was 14 years old, when I started my career, when I traveled for my first international tournament, I happened to play Steffi Graf in the first round. It is pretty incredible that we are retiring in the same year."
Novotna said a nagging ankle injury had nothing to do with the decision.
"Physically, I'm fine," she said. "There is really no problem, My ankle injury doesn't have anything to do with the decision."
But after losing in the third round of the Open last Friday to Anke Huber, Novotna expressed doubts about her future.
"If I feel I can no longer compete with these players or I cannot physically be out there and stay in the top 10 and play on the level I would like to play, then I will think about leaving," she said. "But for right now, I want to take time to think about everything and don't make any emotional statements."
It took just three days for her to make the decision.
Novotna won her 24th WTA Tour event this season at Hanover, beating Venus Williams in the final. She has earned more than $10 million in a career that began in 1986.
Novotna said the new generation of women players is more physically fit than ever before. One of those baseline boomers is Serena Williams, who said she would miss Novotna's voice.
"It's the sweetest voice I've ever heard," she said. "It's so light. You'd think someone with her stature, her size, how long she's been around the tour and stuff, I never realized that her voice was like that."
Novotna said her victory at Wimbledon a year ago fulfilled her greatest ambition in tennis and made her decision to leave the sport less troubling.
"Winning Wimbledon last year and having the wonderful year that I had just made everything much easier," she said. "I said throughout my career that winning one Grand Slam tournament would be very fulfilling and it would be a dream come true for me. It finally did happen. That was the greatest thing that ever happened.
"I can just look back and be very happy and very thankful for the career that I've had. I'm very happy with this decision."
It was at Wimbledon in 1993 that she suffered her greatest disappointment. Leading Graf 4-1 and 40-15 in the third set, five points away from the championship, she came apart.
Graf rallied to win the title, leaving Novotna in tears as she accepted the runner-up trophy from the Duchess of Kent. It was one of the most emotional moments in the tournament's history.
In 1997, Novotna was No. 2 in the world and made it back to the finals at Wimbledon again, this time beaten by Martina Hingis, left again to accept the runnerup trophy and the Duchess' sympathies.
Finally, last year came the breakthrough when she defeated Hingis in the semifinals and Natalie Tauziat in the finals.
Given her frequent meetings with the Duchess, Novotna was asked whether she had discussed the retirement decision with her.
"Yes, I called her last night," Novotna said. "She said, `Don't do it.' I said, `I have to. I'm still going to come [to Wimbledon] because I have the little badge.'"
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