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Novotna leaves a champion
Posted: Monday September 06, 1999 09:45 PM
By Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated
In part the timing is right because she's still not fully recovered from the ankle injury she suffered at the French Open. The last of tennis' Mohicans, a pure serve-and-volleyer in this age of relentless baseline bashers, she is rendered impotent when her mobility is limited. What's more, nearly 31 years old, her threshold for rehabilitation is understandably low. "I won't lie," she said after losing to Anke Huber in the third round here. "[Tennis] is very frustrating for me lately."
But, in truth, the timing has been right for her to call it a career ever since she won last year's Wimbledon. Having finally driven a stake in her personal dragons, she became a source of our admiration, not our pity, when she won her first and only Slam. "I said throughout my career that winning one Grand Slam tournament would be very fulfilling and a dream come true," she said. "And it happened. Winning Wimbledon made this decision much easier."
What a shame it would have been had Novotna's legacy been that of a wonderfully talented, wonderfully fluid player who folded like a novice poker player when the stakes were highest. Sure, we'll always recall the choke jobs and her sobbing on the Dutchess' shoulder after failing to serve out Graf. But the image of Novotna etched deepest in our consciousness ought to be of her hoisting the Wimbledon plate last July, wearing an impossibly wide smile. "I did it," she kept repeating that day. Indeed she did. And it's why she leaves tennis -- a game far better off now than when she started -- as a champion.
After he and partner Richey Reneberg lost to Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes, Justin Gimelstob slammed his racket against the court. Problem was, the Dunlop racket bounced up and cracked Gimelstob's shin, causing a hideous-looking bruise. "Guess I won't be doing that again," he said while icing his self-inflicted wound. ... Fans who watched a large Indian contingent cheer on Bhupathi and Paes or witnessed the Chilean brigade chant for Marcelo Rios now know why Davis Cup is such a special event. ... The only two males who have yet to drop a set? Richard Krajicek and Slava Dosedel. ... His torn rotator cuff not as serious as feared, Pat Rafter is making overtures that he may make himself available for doubles in this month's Davis Cup semifinal tie. After watching what disaster followed when Pete Sampras tried to play that card in Boston, you'd think Rafter would know better. ... Speaking of, there were no Aussies left in the draw after Round 3. ... Don't be surprised if Rios and Nike part ways in the near future. During his straight-set defeat to qualifier Nicolas Escude, Rios changed shoes four times. "They fall apart in the bottom and I have trouble," he said. ... Ever gracious in defeat, Rios had this to say about Escude: "I think Andre [Agassi] won't have any trouble to beat him." ... Austrian Barbara Schett may be the overwhelming underdog against Venus Williams, but it bears mention that the Austrian has dropped two games in her past two matches. ... Today's celebrity chalk picker is bowling champ Bob Learn: "Andre will show what he's made of and Lindsay [Davenport] will defend."
Jon Wertheim is a Sports Illustrated staff writer.
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