Tennis: Variety is nice for Novotna

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The Independent Online
JANA NOVOTNA is one step from making a successful defence of her singles title at the women's international tournament here today after ending a stirring campaign by Julie Halard, of France, 6-3 7-5, in the semi-finals.

The unseeded Helena Sukova guaranteed an all- Czech final by winning an exciting contest against Larisa Neiland, of Latvia, 6-4 0-6 7-5.

Novotna, seeded No 2 behind Conchita Martinez, the Wimbledon champion, who made a hasty exit when faced by Neiland in the quarter-finals, once again proved to have too much variety in her game for Halard, the No 7 seed.

Halard did not go without a fight, prompting her opponent to describe her play as ugly. 'She's very unpredictable,' Novotna said, 'and for me it's very ugly. She keeps you behind the baseline and throws in a short ball.'

Halard, broken in the third game, immediately gained parity when Novotna netted a forehand. Fortune did not favour the Frenchwoman when she lost her serve again for 3-4. After saving two break points, she played a defensive lob so high that the ball struck a box housing spotlights suspended from the ceiling. Novotna converted the third break-point opportunity with a forehand volley.

After holding serve to love, Novotna gained two set points. Halard saved the first with the first ace, but then hit a cramped backhand half-volley wide.

The early pattern of the second set was the reverse of the first. Novotna levelled after being broken in the third game, but went down 3-4 after being passed with a forehand. Halard was unable to press the advantage, making two errors from 30-30 in the next game. Novotna finished the job after hitting a forehand long on her first match point with Halard serving at 5-6 down. Four consecutive reflex volleys rattled the Frenchwoman as Novotna created a second opening. Halard was then lured into netting a forehand.

Sukova, ranked No 29, not only saw the match running away from her when Neiland began to hit winners from all angles in the second set, but also received a warning for taking too much time after leaving the court to change her shirt at 5-0. She required four match points to beat the Latvian, who recovered from 0-2 in the final set.