Tennis: Wimbledon '94 / Navratilova finds nerve to defeat Novotna: Women's Quarter-Finals: Nine-times champion to meet Fernandez in semi-finals as Martinez and McNeil also advance to next stage

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The Independent Online
THE point may be approaching where the dread of being the player who brings Martina Navratilova's long and glorious association with Wimbledon to a close is stronger than the desire to win the championship.

One can recall Chris Evert's farewell appearance at the United States Open in 1989, when Zina Garrison finally lowered the curtain on an illustrious career in the quarter-finals after Monica Seles - aged 15, and not one to respect reputations - had expressed relief that she had not been equal to the task in the previous round.

A similar situation may not arise here until Saturday. After defeating Jana Novotna, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1, the 37-year-old Navratilova stands two matches from leaving with a 10th title, whereas it is a major accomplishment for Gigi Fernandez, her semi-final opponent tomorrow, to be standing at all.

It seemed ironic in the midst of the controversy concerning Boris Becker's skip to the loo to receive treatment from his personal physiotherapist that Fernandez all but underwent surgery on Court One yesterday.

Her thighs were mummified when she arrived on court to play Garrison (now Garrison Jackson), having been nursed through her fourth-round match against Yayuk Basuki, during which the trainer paid three visits to the court. At one stage, she had laid flat on her face while receiving treatment to her right thigh, an injury she has carried since the French Open.

Additional problems developed with an injury to Fernandez's left hamstring during the concluding phase of a remarkable 6-4, 6-4 victory against Garrison Jackson, the 13th seed. The trainer arrived on court at 5-3 and again at 5-4, by which time spectators were wondering if the world No 99 would be able to complete the match and, if she did, whether the effort would be worthwhile.

Barely able to walk, she still managed to serve out the match against the player who had been on the opposite side of the net to Navratilova in the 1990 final, when the great champion scored her record ninth triumph.

'My legs are taking a beating,' Fernandez said. 'I have no legs.' To the amazement of spectators on Court 14, she then tottered into a third-round doubles match, partnering Natalia Zvereva against Basuki and Nana Miyagi. At one set all, the match was suspended because of bad light.

Playing doubles is Fernandez's stock in trade. In partnership with Zvereva, she narrowly missed completing a Grand Slam at last year's US Open, and is half-way towards that goal.

'Doubles is more important to me than singles, actually,' Fernandez said, 'so I wouldn't want to not give it my best.' By doing so, she may have ruined any chance she had of reaching the singles final.

It is worth mentioning that Fernandez, even when fully fit, has failed to defeat Navratilova in their seven previous matches, one of which (6-3, 6-1) was in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1987.

Even before yesterday's match, the 30-year-old Fernandez had expressed the hope that she would not have to play Navratilova. 'I'll have a hard time facing Martina,' she said. 'It would be a very emotional thing for me.'

When the prospect materialised, she said she would have to try to kid herself that it was just another match. 'Playing Martina is tough. We are very good friends and we both live in Aspen. We train together and lift weights together and practise together.

'I was rooting for her to win this at the beginning. I wanted to see her finish her career winning Wimbledon one more time. She's going to have the crowd behind her, and she's a legend, and I'm playing her on Centre Court. But that's secondary. I think the hardest thing for me is playing a friend.'

Unless Fernandez acquires a fresh pair of legs, we must assume that Navratilova will advance to her 12th final and a meeting with either the fourth seed, Conchita Martinez, or the unseeded Lori McNeil, who turned the women's tournament on its head by eliminating Steffi Graf in the opening round.

Martinez, who lost to Graf in the semi-finals a year ago, would appear to be the biggest threat. The Spaniard displayed impressive stroke-making and commendable nerve in defeating Lindsay Davenport, 6-2, 6-7, 6-3.

The sturdy, 18-year-old American, who was making her debut on the Centre Court, must have fancied her chances in the final set, having saved a match point at 2-5 in the second, but her opponent's greater experience proved decisive, especially on another afternoon of soaring temperatures.

Martinez may also have more resistance than the others to the Martina Appreciation Society. She experienced the emotional fervour of the Rome branch when defeating Navratilova in the final of the Italian Open in May, stepping aside like a runner-up while the crowd accorded her opponent a standing ovation.

McNeil, in common with Fernandez, will be conscious of the fact that no unseeded player has ever won the women's singles titles, but the victory against Graf may have convinced her that anything is possible. She has coped with a variety of opponents, dealing effectively (6-3, 6-4) with Latvia's Larisa Neiland, a fellow serve-volleyer, having sucessfully countered the baseline guile of Florencia Labat.

Novotna, whose solitary victory against Navratilova came in the semi-finals last year, began promisingly yesterday, breaking serve in the opening game and saving a set point with an ace before narrowly taking the opening set.

Service errors then dictated the pattern of Novotna's erratic play, and with Navratilova rapidly gaining confidence, she lost the next nine games. The final set could have been closer. After being broken for 0-2, Novotna was unable to take advantage of six break points, two in the third game and four in the fifth.

Though the Duchess of Kent was not in attendance on this occasion, there was no need for a shoulder for Novotna to weep on. Unlike last year's final, when she blew a 4-1 lead against Graf in the third set, she never came close enough for her nerve to be put to the test.

Pete Sampras, the defending men's singles champion, who has not played on the main show courts since the first round, will be the first player on Centre Court today to face his fellow American and the 10th seed, Michael Chang, for a place in the semi-finals. The 22-year-old world No 1 has lost only five of 58 matches so far this year.

----------------------------------------------------------------- WOMEN'S SINGLES ----------------------------------------------------------------- SEMI-FINALS C MARTINEZ (Sp) v L McNeil (US) M NAVRATILOVA (US) v G Fernandez (US) -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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