Novotna Stumbles to Quarters Win

KEY BISCAYNE, Florida -- This time Jana Novotna's collapse came after the match.

Novotna rose above her reputation for choking -- barely -- in Wednesday's quarterfinals at the Lipton Championships. She survived 63 unforced errors and 2 1/2 hours in the hot Florida sun to outlast Iva Majoli 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7).

When Majoli blew an overhead on the final point, Novotna crumpled at the baseline and remained flat on her back for 10 seconds, flinging her headband in celebration.

"It was just such a relief that you could not believe it,'' Novotna said. "I was just lying there saying, 'That's it. I don't have to run any farther.'''

The third-seeded Novotna advanced to Thursday's semifinals against top seed Martina Hingis, who blitzed No. 10 Mary Joe Fernandez 6-4, 6-1. Trailing 4-3 in the first set, Hingis won 10 consecutive points to seize the momentum, and she lost only 12 points in the second set.

No. 4 Monica Seles and No. 11 Barbara Paulus will meet in the other semifinal Thursday night.

While Novotna stumbled to victory, top-ranked Pete Sampras took advantage of an opponent's misstep and advanced to Friday's men's semifinals.

Sampras' opponent in the semifinals Friday will be Spaniard Sergi Bruguera, who beat unseeded Andrei Medvedev of Ukraine 6-0, 6-3. Bruguera lost only three points in the first set and raced to a 5-0 lead in the second.

Sampras won by walkover because unseeded Hendrik Dreekmann of Germany was unable to take the court. Dreekmann sprained his right ankle Tuesday night when he tripped over uneven pavement while walking to his hotel after dinner.

"I saw him lying on the table in the trainer's room this morning, and his ankle was like a softball,'' Sampras said. "All of a sudden I have a couple of days off. It's unfortunate. He's an up-and-coming player and would have given me a good fight.''

Even on crutches, Dreekmann might have beaten Novotna or Majoli, whose match was hardly an artistic triumph. The eighth-seeded Majoli had 52 unforced errors and 14 double faults, meaning nearly two-thirds of the points ended with a mistake.

A frustrated Majoli once pointed at her head and cocked her thumb, as if shooting herself. In the third set, Novotna put her hand to her throat after losing a point.

Novotna will forever be remembered for blowing a 4-1 lead against Steffi Graf in the 1993 Wimbledon final. Two years later, Novotna squandered a 5-0, 40-0 third-set lead against Chanda Rubin at the French Open.

So when she lost two match points in the tiebreaker -- floating a backhand wide, then hitting a forehand 2 meters out -- it was easy to conclude she was destined for defeat.

"This match was going one way, the other way,'' Novotna said. "I felt like I have it, then I lost it already. Then in the tiebreaker, it really could go both ways.''

On the final point, Majoli settled under an easy overhead at the net, aimed crosscourt and hit the ball 30 centimeters past the sideline.

She threw her racket, then trudged to the other end of the court and gave Novotna a hug. They walked off together, the crowd cheering, two exhausted players grinning and Majoli shaking her head.

"I had too many chances to win,'' she said. "The last point, I had the easiest shot of my match, and I missed. For sure I'm disappointed that I didn't win.''