Tennis: Wimbledon '93 / 'I didn't lose it - she won it'

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The Independent Online
JANA NOVOTNA refuses to wear the label of a 'choker' around her neck despite her capitulation yesterday to Steffi Graf after serving for a 5-1 lead in the third set of the Wimbledon women's singles final. She is determined that her destiny is to win a Grand Slam singles title. 'I just don't think it was nerves at all.' she said. 'I just went for it and it didn't work at all today.'

Novotna denied that she handed the match to her German opponent. 'I don't think so at all,' she said. 'I think when I lost that game for 4-2 she lifted her game a lot and she started to play much better, and at the end she won it herself.'

The one moment of choking that she could not deny was when she received the runner's-up trophy from the Duchess of Kent, whose words of consolation, though thoroughly appreciated by the 24-year-old Czech, were more than she could bear after her bitterly disappointing loss. Her eyes filled with tears and she bowed her head towards the Duchess, who then embraced Novotna in a spontaneous and moving display of sympathy. The vanquished player rested her head on the Duchess's shoulder for several moments and her anguished sobs slowly subsided.

'I've won doubles here twice,' Novotna said. 'I won mixed once here . . . So we kind of know each other. I said, 'You lost it but you have to handle yourself well because this is an occasion and all that.' But then when she came to me and she started to smile and when she said, 'Jana, I believe that you will do it. I know that you will do it, don't worry,' I just let go. And it was very emotional because I think she is a very nice lady, and I was happy she was there for the whole match.'

Novotna's road to her best performance at Wimbledon began when, as a resident of Brno, in what was then known as Czechoslovakia, she turned pro in February 1987. She won the first of her eight singles titles in Adelaide the following year and began to ascend the rankings, employing her natural serve-and-volley game, to reach a peak of No 7 in the world in 1991. In the Australian Open of that year she produced her best Grand Slam result, one she equalled yesterday, when she lost in the final to Monica Seles.

Novotna, who now lives in Belgium where she is coached by the former Wimbledon finalist and the winner of four other Grand Slams, Hana Mandlikova, believes her early career was considerably slower to evolve than those of her rivals in the West because of the relative isolation of Eastern Europe at the time. Novotna agreed that it took players from Eastern Europe more time to mature and become accustomed to the circuit. 'It took me quite a time to handle this kind of situation well, and because I've been in the final in Australia in 1991, so I felt like I was a step further,' she said. 'So I felt that I should be ready. I felt very good on the court. It's just a sad ending.

'I made it to the top 10 when I was just 22 years old. If you look at the other players, they are in the top 10 and playing professional tennis since they were 14. Because we started late, it takes a little longer for us to learn.'

Novotna believes her Grand Slam time will come if she sticks to her guns. Her victories over Gabriela Sabatini and Martina Navratilova in the quarter and semi-finals proved she can match it with the leading players. 'I won them because I went for my shots,' she said. 'Aces from the second serve - I really went for them. I decided to do the same thing today because I know I can't play different tennis. So I did exactly the same thing, but the sad thing about it is it didn't work as well as in the last two matches. That is the difference. If I had made these shots, it would be a different story. I've proved that I have the nerves to play and that I have the confidence to win on the big occasions.'