Originally created 08/29/98

Novotna, Graf advance to final



NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Steffi Graf beat Lindsay Davenport 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) Friday night in the Pilot Pen International, snapping the defending champion's 13-match winning streak and advancing to her first final since knee surgery 14 months ago.

"It's been a while," Graf said. "I'm thrilled to be in the finals."

Her last title came in May 1997 on the clay courts of Strasbourg. A month later she had surgery on her left knee. All three of her semifinal appearances this year were against Davenport, who beat her at Indian Wells and at Stanford.

Graf will meet Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna in Satuday's title match. Novotna advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over unseeded Julie Halard-Decugis.

Davenport nursed a strained right wrist through most of the match and had to call for a trainer midway through the first set. Graf, the No. 4 seed, took advantage of the ailing Davenport to win the first set easily.

She built a 5-2 lead in the second set but Davenport began to loosen up and pin her with powerful groundstrokes and aggressive serves.

"I just started hitting my shots more and trying not to worry about it. ... Then all of a sudden I was back in the match," Davenport said.

Serving at 5-5, Davenport hit a couple of aces and battled through two deuces to go up 6-5. Graf tied it on her next service, forcing a tiebreaker that initially appeared to be all Davenport's.

The 22-year-old Californian won the first five points and suddenly Graf was looking ahead to a third set.

"I kind of thought already about going back to the changing room and changing my shirt for third set. That maybe helped. I didn't start to worry about the match anymore," said Graf, who won the next five points.

She served out for the match and won it when Davenport's return landed in the net.

Halard-Decugis, who missed all of last year with wrist, knee and shoulder injuries, had not beaten Novotna in their previous five matches but quickly had the 29-year-old down a break in the first set for a 3-0 lead. Her strong baseline play and crosscourt winners kept Novotna off the net.

"My game plan was to come in much more, but unfortunately I couldn't do that," Novotna said.

Instead, she countered with pinpoint passes and deep-angled winners to move the rangy Halard-Decugis around the court.

"I just needed to be more consistent, move her around a little bit and let her work for her shots," Novotna said.

Novotna battled back from 0-30 in their final game, hitting two straight sideline winners. Halard-Decugis forced a deuce with a blistering crosscourt shot. Novotna regained the next point with a deft drop shot and won on her next serve when Halard-Decugis' return was long.