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GRAF’S BAD BACK GIVES TITLE TO NOVOTNA

SHARE GRAF’S BAD BACK GIVES TITLE TO NOVOTNA

Her back ailing, Steffi Graf called it quits after a set Sunday, giving Jana Novotna the title at the Advanta Championships.

"I tried to practice in the morning," Graf said. "It wasn't possible, so I knew it would be difficult to get on the court and play."She lost the first set 6-4, then decided it was futile to continue. She said she would wait as long as possible before deciding whether to play in the season-ending Chase Championships, which begin Monday in New York.

Graf's back began to bother her during Saturday's win over Marianne Werdel Witmeyer. She tried chiropractic treatment, anti-inflammatory medication and a massage Saturday, but it wasn't enough.

No matter what, she said, a break from tennis isn't the answer. Her doctors have told her that playing every day will strengthen her back and ease her pain.

Early in the match, Graf tried early to rush to the net and end points quickly, "but then again I couldn't move very well at the net," she said.

"I said, `Oh, it looks like today I'm going to see something new from Steffi,' " Novotna said.

Novotna beat Graf for just the fourth time, won her third straight title and moved up to No. 3 in the world.

Graf, ranked No. 1, withdrew from her last tournament in early October because of a mild knee tear and barely practiced before this week's competition. This week, her knee was fine, but the bone spur in her back nagged her.

Novotna won her 12th straight match behind a powerful serve. She lost just five points on serve and broke in the seventh game, when Graf slapped three groundstrokes into the net. Novotna won the game with a good approach shot and crisp backhand volley to go up 4-3.

Novotna, who won $79,000, pumped her fist after sealing the 32-minute first set.

"Yes, yes, yes," she said with a wide smile when she heard that she'd moved up one spot to her highest tour ranking.

Novotna beat Anne Miller and two serve-and-volleyers, Lori McNeil and Yayuk Basuki, on her way to the finals. With solid groundstrokes, a good serve and crisp net play, Novotna has been among the few players still fresh this late in a season lengthened by the Olympics and the Fed Cup.

She cites her two-month layoff at the beginning of the year.

"I'm feeling healthy," she said, unlike 1994, the last time she went into the championships with three straight titles. That year, she fell in her second match.

Graf had beaten Novotna in their last 14 meetings, most recently at the Wimbledon quarterfinals.

A week ago, Graf didn't figure she'd even make the finals of this event. Graf had reinjured her knee and flown to Florida. It wasn't until last Sunday that she realized her name was still in the draw.

Her knee felt better, but she got in only a couple days of practice. Add to that the distraction of her father's release from a prison in Germany hours before Friday night's match. Peter Graf had been jailed on tax evasion charges.

It turned out the injuries distracted her more as she swept past Amy Frazier, No. 14 Chanda Rubin and Werdel Witmeyer to reach the finals.

In doubles, local favorite Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs defeated Nicole Arendt and McNeil, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.