NOVOTNA CREDITS CZECH MATE FOR CLIMB IN TENNIS - CAREER BEGAN TO GROW WHEN MANDLIKOVA BECAME MENTOR
The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, January 19, 1992
Jana Novotna's tennis career wasn't inspired by older Czechoslovakian greats.
"I don't think I had any idol that I looked up to and said, 'Hey, I want to be like Lendl or Navratilova,' " said Novotna, 23.
But she attributes much of her success to another Czech forerunner.
Since Hana Mandlikova became Novotna's coach in 1990, Novotna has jumped 39 spots in the world computer rankings. In their first year together, she climbed 35 places.
Novotna, who ended 1991 ranked No. 7 and currently is No. 8, is one of four women who will compete Feb. 6-8 in the second Big Bear Challenge in the Celeste Center at the Ohio State Fairgrounds. Joining her for two days of tennis will be Martina Navratilova, Jennifer Capriati and Zina Garrison. At stake is a purse of $500,000.
After reaching the finals of the Australian Open in singles and doubles and winning two other tournaments, Novotna calls 1991 her best season.
"It happened when I started to be coached by Hana Mandlikova," Novotna said last week by telephone from Melbourne, Australia. "I think she made the big changearound. She showed me the professional way of a tennis player, and that helped me a lot.
"She taught me to be a fully professional tennis player, not only on the court, but off the tennis court, which I had never done before. She improved me in all ways."
Mandlikova was an aggressive player, but Novotna said she hasn't tried to copy her.
"She has a different personality than I do," Novotna said. "But I need somebody behind me who can push me. A little bit of her aggressiveness helped me a lot in this."
Asked what style of tennis fans would see at the Big Bear Challenge, Novotna described her play (on a good day) as "great serve, very aggressive tennis, not too much staying at the baseline but trying to come in and some very good volleys. Very attacking tennis."
Despite her climb up the tennis charts, Novotna does not have her eye on No. 1.
"I still have to improve in many ways," she said. "When I get to the top five, I might think about a No. 3 place, and when I'm there I can think about No. 1. I don't think it's possible for me to think about it from No. 8, or whatever I am now. From No. 8 to No. 1, that would be a much bigger step."
Last January in Australia was a major turning point for Novotna. She won the New South Wales Open in Sydney, then met Monica Seles for the Australian Open title. It was the first Grand Slam singles final for Novotna, whose previous best was the French Open semifinals in 1990.
"I never really made a breakthrough and it finally happened in Australia," she said. "It didn't happen suddenly, like I had a good three weeks. I'd been working hard for so long, and I finally made the step."
Now Novotna is determined to erase the notion that she's just a doubles player. Novotna has won four Grand Slam doubles titles with Helena Sukova, and 13 other doubles crowns with Sukova, Gigi Fernandez or Mary Joe Fernandez, and two Grand Slam mixed doubles with Jim Pugh.
"I do enjoy playing doubles and I've been No. 1 for some time," Novotna said. "I consider playing doubles great fun and something I enjoy so much."
Asked if it has overshadowed her singles career, Novotna said, "Maybe in the past it was like that. I was recognized more as a doubles player than a singles player. I always wanted to change that so badly, and that finally happened last year when I played the final down here in Australia."
Novotna will be making her first trip to Ohio and is looking forward to facing Capriati, whom she had never played going into the Australian Open.
"It will be the first time and I'm quite curious," Novotna said of the American teen-age sensation.
Novotna predicts that Columbus patrons will see top-notch tennis.
"People can expect even better tennis than in a tournament because sometimes the nervousness can affect your game," she said. "This way you can play your best tennis. It's better for the people. They can see a much higher level of tennis. There's less pressure, but you still want to play your best and win."