NEW YORK -- Jana Novotna. You remember her. The woman who never seems able to win the really big ones. The one who blew a 4-1 lead in the final set at Wimbledon, the one who hasn't been to the finals of a major tournament since.
You remember her. But last night, in the quarterfinals of the Chase Championships at Madison Square Garden, you wouldn't have recognized her.
No. 5 seed Novotna captivated everyone, as she upset No. 2-ranked Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-0, 6-3.
"Does it look to you like I'm playing the best tennis of my life?" she said grinning. "It looks to me like I am."
Her reward will be to face No. 1 Steffi Graf, who who won that memorable 1993 Wimbledon in which Novotna crumbled, today in this year-ending championship semifinals.
Martina Hingis, after hurrying Kimiko Date into retirement with a 6-1, 6-2 victory, faces Iva Majoli in the other semifinal for the right to advance to tomorrow's final.
Over the past five weeks, Novotna has won three tournaments and beaten everyone in the top 10, including Graf, to achieve her career-high No. 3 world ranking. Last night, her confidence was on display.
Novotna served and volleyed, kept Sanchez Vicario guessing whether she was approaching for a forehand or backhand volley, and when Sanchez Vicario tried to upset her concentration, Novotna ignored her and played on.
The victory ended an 0-for-7 run against Spain's top player, including a particularly rancorous confrontation at the Olympics.
The two women, who are doubles partners, met in Atlanta in the singles semifinals. There Sanchez Vicario complained loudly about bad calls on her way to a win and Novotna took offense. They still are doubles partners, though today's championship match will be their last together. They are no longer good friends.
"Maybe I looked really calm out there," Novotna said. "But inside I was boiling. I really wanted to play well because it's been a long time since I've beaten Arantxa.
"I'm really proud of myself, the way I was able to come back in that last game [of the first set] from love-40 down on her serve and still finish her off in such a style."
Sanchez Vicario had little to say. There was little she could say. In the first set, she got just 10 points and three ground-stroke winners.
Across the net, Novotna was brilliant.
"In the first set, it was very hard because I don't have many chances," said Sanchez Vicario, after a polite congratulatory shake of hands at the net. "She was really doing very well. And the second set, there were some points, that, maybe, if I would have taken one, it would be different. I didn't take any."
Certainly she wasn't given any.
Results, Page 10C
Pub Date: 11/23/96