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Novotna earns Chase Championships title

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Exorcising the pain of past disappointments, Jana Novotna finally put a major tournament title on her resume.

"Even if I don't win another match, I proved I'm the player I expected to be," Novotna said after capturing the Chase Championships Sunday by defeating Mary Pierce 7-6 (7-4), 6-2, 6-3 in the season-ending showcase featuring the tour's top 16 players.This victory will not erase the sting of her collapse in the 1993 Wimbledon final or her failures in the finals of the 1991 Australian Open or this year's Wimbledon. But it put to rest the notion that she is unable to win a big one.

"I have come a long way," Novotna said. "I have made it to the final three times in the Grand Slam. Twice I came close to winning. After today, I feel I'm a great champion."

On Saturday, Novotna teamed with Lindsay Davenport to win the doubles title, defeating Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat and became the first player to win both titles at the same Championships since Martina Navratilova in 1983.

"It feels great," said Novotna, who with Sunday's victory regained the No. 2 singles ranking she lost last Monday to Davenport.

During the postmatch ceremonies, Novotna cried as she thanked her coach, Hana Mandlikova.

"She made me a better player and she made me a champion," Novotna said of Mandlikova, who won four Grand Slam tournament titles in her career. "She was a great champion and she taught me how to be one."

Novotna earned $500,000 and Pierce collected $250,000. With the $125,000 she earned for the doubles crown, Novotna raised her career earnings to $8,388,380.

"Tennis is not only about money," Novotna said, "and that's how I always looked at it. Tennis for me was always about winning trophies, about winning Grand Slams and winning tournaments."

Even with the loss, Pierce had her best year since winning the Australian Open in 1995. She reached the final at this year's Australian Open, won the Italian Open and was chosen the WTA Tour Comeback Player of the Year.

"I'm happy and I'm not happy at the same time," Pierce said. "I played three great matches, beat No. 1 in the world."

The win continued Novotna's mastery over Pierce. She is 5-0 lifetime against her French foe and has won all 11 sets the two have played.

On Sunday, Novotna appeared a step slow at the ontset. But she took charge in the first-set tiebreak and never let Pierce back into the match.

As she did when she shocked top-seeded Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals, Pierce opened the match with blistering groundstrokes and repeatedly beat Novotna to the net. She was playing Novotna's game, but with bigger strokes.

"I knew that she'd be surprised because every time I played her I've played her from the baseline and she's always stayed at the baseline," Pierce said. "I knew for me to beat her I had to come in and be aggressive. And it was working."

For a while, anyway.

"I knew that she would have to come up with something new to beat me today," Novotna said of Pierce's frequent forays to the net.

Despite a groin injury, Pierce seemed in control through the first 12 games. She had a break point in the first game and had two set points on Novotna's serve in the 12th game.

But Novotna, who served brilliantly the entire match, served into Pierce's body to stave off the first break point, then crushed her fourth ace of the match to save the second. She closed the 16-point game with another ace, sending the set into a tiebreak.

As she had done throughout this week, Pierce tried to slow the match, forcing Novotna to wait between points while she preened and stretched and fiddled with her hair and headband. At the start of the tiebreak, Pierce received a code of conduct warning

Again, Pierce drew first blood, rifling a forehand past Novotna, who had spent most of the opening set on the baseline, to take a 4-2 lead. Novotna pulled even on the eighth point, smacking a forehand cross court that Pierce could not control. When Pierce sailed a forehand long on the next point, all Novotna had to do was hold service, and she did.

"I thought it was really important to win the first set," Novotna said. "From then on I felt my game was working well."

Pierce gave it one more shot, in the opening game of the second set. But Novotna finally held in the 10-minute battle, fighting off two break points and through seven deuces. By then, Novotna was in full gear, her title in sight.

"For me, it is like a fifth Grand Slam," Novotna said of the Championships.

"I have never had any doubt that I wouldn't be able to do it one day. It was just a matter of time."

World Doubles

HARTFORD, Conn. - Rick Leach and Jonathan Stark, who hadn't won a tournament playing together in 1997, won the Phoenix ATP Tour World Doubles Championship, beating Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) in the final Sunday.

Leach and Stark had lost five tournament finals this year. Leach, who lost two other finals, won at least one tournament for the 11th consecutive year.

"I finally got Rick a title and no one is more deserving," Stark said.

This was Leach's first appearance in a World Doubles final since he combined with Jim Pugh to win the first World Doubles Championship in 1988.

"It's like a dream come true that I'm still able to play at this level," Leach said. "Most definitely this makes up for the seven losses in tourney finals I had this year."

Paes and Bhupathi got a break in the third game and held a 3-1 advantage. Leach and Stark then won the next five games to win the set. They were not broken again in the match.

Leach and Stark finish the year ranked the No. 3 doubles team in the world. They will split the $60,000 prize.

Leach announced after the match that he will not play with Stark next year. Stark will play with South African Byron Black and Leach will play with South African Ellis Ferreira.

Paes and Bhupathi, who began the year ranked No. 36, finished ranked No. 4. Australians Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge finish the year with the No. 1 ranking.