Tennis: Novotna to defend title only if fully fit

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WHILE OPTIMISTIC about returning to Wimbledon to defend the women's singles title in 19 days' time, Jana Novotna will not take the kind of gamble that put Britain's Greg Rusedski out of the game for two months with a damaged ankle last year, writes John Roberts.

"I wouldn't want to play there if I wasn't 100 per cent," the 30-year- old Czech said yesterday, after arriving on crutches for an interview at the French Open. "It wouldn't be professional, and I wouldn't want to be there for just for the occasion. I think I can leave a decision until the last minute. But I will go to Wimbledon to play well and to win. I wouldn't want to go there just because I won it last year, just for the new experience, or just to be there on the Tuesday."

A scan yesterday revealed ligament damage to Novotna's right ankle. "I have sprained this ankle about six times already, but this is the worst sprain I have had," she said. "I was told the first three or four days after such a sprain are pretty critical to how everything else can develop in order for everything to get better."

Novotna is due to start her grass-court preparations a week next Tuesday at Eastbourne, where she won the Direct Line International title last year. It seems doubtful that she will be able to take a similar route to the All England Club. "Before I leave Paris on Saturday or Sunday I will be able to tell you more and see if Wimbledon is out of the question or not," she said.

She blamed herself for the injury, which occurred when she collided with her doubles parter, Natasha Zvereva, while chasing a lob from Mary Pierce in the first set of their quarter-final against Pierce and Lindsay Davenport. "It was so unnecessary to even chase that ball, because it was a winner," Novotna said. "It happens to every doubles team that you sometimes clash at the net and you both want to cover the same ball. This time it happened big-time. But it was Natasha's ball, so I was supposed to stay out of it. The forehand usually takes the middle, so it's my fault."