With the Duchess on hand to present the coveted Rosewater Dish to the winner, Novotna had found redemption on Centre Court, beating Tauziat, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), to win her first Grand Slam title at age 29. And, five years after she wept tears of defeat on the Duchess's shoulder, Novotna allowed herself only a brief outpouring of relief before she pulled herself together and began a gleeful celebration.
Mouthing the words, "I don't believe it!" Novotna climbed over the tarpaulins at the edge of the court, scampered up a set of stairs and crawled into the friends and family box, where she fiercely embraced her mother, her hitting partner and her coach, Hana Mandlikova, the four-time Grand Slam tournament champion to whom Novotna dedicated her triumph.
"I think I always said that winning one Grand Slam would mean so much to me," Novotna said. "And winning Wimbledon, I guess it means everything, really. This is what I have been working for for many, many years, and this is definitely a dream come true."
After returning to the court, Novotna eagerly waited for the presentation of the silver salver she had touched, longingly, after Steffi Graf beat her here in 1993 and Martina Hingis beat her again last year. Before taking it in her arms, though, Novotna grasped the Duchess's hands tightly as the two women talked for nearly a minute.
"What was the big thing?" the Duchess teased Novotna. "I told you last year that if you make it to the finals for the third time, it will be third-time lucky."
In 1993, Novotna suffered one of the most incredible defeats in Wimbledon finals history when she blew a 4-1, third-set lead to Graf. She leaned on the Duchess for comfort that day, and the Duchess has been a fan ever since. She comforted Novotna again last summer telling her she'd be "third-time lucky" and she appeared to be quite happy to be handing over the winner's prize to Novotna today.
"Obviously she was very nice," Novotna said, "and she was very pleased that I have finally won this championship, and she was just so sure."
Most observers expected this appearance in the final to finally provide blessed relief for Novotna, particularly after she played brilliantly to defeat Hingis, the top seed, in the semifinals Thursday. Novotna, however, wasn't so sure. Terrified that Tauziat's serve-and-volley game would give her trouble, she and Mandlikova sat down Friday night and broke down Tauziat's semifinal victory over Natasha Zvereva, trying to develop a game plan.
"I felt that we both really felt it was our chance, that we have a great opportunity to win this Grand Slam," said Novotna, who knew that Tauziat, one year her senior, had not won a Grand Slam title either. "I knew that this would probably be the toughest match of the whole championship, really. I felt like the match against Martina was a piece of cake compared to this one, believe me."
Under a dark, heavy sky, both players started the match showing nerves and both played far from their best tennis throughout the afternoon. Novotna managed to take the first set and break Tauziat in the first game of the second, but she never appeared to gain too much confidence.
One of the most nerve-wracking games for Novotna-watchers was the second of that set, when Novotna double-faulted to lose the first two points the second double-fault coming on a serve that was long by more than a dozen feet. The serve was reminiscent of a double-fault Novotna suffered in her 1993 collapse to Graf, and it was hard for those who remembered it not to think, "Oh, no, not again."
Even Novotna was worried.
"This is really wonderful," she thought to herself, her stomach doing flip-flops. "How are you going to win Wimbledon without your serve?"
Somehow, she managed but not without a few more bouts with nerves. Leading 3-1 and 5-3 in the second set, Novotna served for the match at 5-4 and lost the game. The crowd groaned as she dragged out the agony. But once the set moved to a tiebreaker, Novotna took control, winning the final five points as Tauziat grew so frustrated with her own play that at one point she fell to the ground and dropped her racket in disgust.
"It's never easy to play your game when you are for the first time in the final of a big tournament like this," Tauziat said. "So I have nothing to regret. She played better than me. She has more experience than me in the final of a Grand Slam, and she deserved to win Wimbledon."
Novotna did not invite her mother to Wimbledon the first two times she played in the women's singles final. She was too superstitious, too afraid that any change in her routine would somehow upset her momentum. So mom stayed home, and Novotna lost anyway.
This weekend, Novotna called her mother in the Czech Republic and caved in.
"It didn't work twice, mum, so come over," Novotna told her mother. So, her mother came. And when Novotna climbed into the stands today, her mother received a very big, very joyous hug.
"She just got here last night," Novotna said. "This is her first time in England, her first time at a Grand Slam tournament."
For Novotna, though, it was the third time. The third time lucky.
Wimbledon Notes: Playing in what will be their final season as doubles partners, Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis of the Netherlands accomplished their fantasy here today they won the Wimbledon men's doubles title, giving them victories in all four Grand Slam events.
Top seeds Eltingh and Haarhuis had to fend off a fierce challenge by the Australian duo of Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, who had won a record-tying five consecutive Wimbledon men's doubles titles. The Dutchmen won the match, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 10-8, as dusk descended upon Centre Court. Woodbridge backhanded the final point into the net as Eltingh, who plans to retire at the end of this year, raised his arms in celebration.
The long men's doubles final prevented Serena Williams and partner Max Mirnyi from getting on court for their mixed doubles semifinal against Haarhuis and Caroline Vis. Meanwhile, Venus Williams lost in the other side of the draw, as she and fellow American Justin Gimelstob had their red-hot run through the mixed doubles field stopped cold by Mirjana Lucic and Mahesh Bhupathi. Lucic and Bhupathi beat the Americans, 6-4, 7-5.
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