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Women’s championship will be one for the aged

SHARE Women’s championship will be one for the aged

The brash teen queens of tennis are dominating the headlines, but not the Grand Slams. Once again at Wimbledon, older is better.

Jana Novotna, 29, and Nathalie Tauziat, 30, will meet in today's final, wresting the spotlight from those charismatic kids - Martina Hingis, Anna Kournikova and Venus and Serena Williams.The battle of the ages at Wimbledon turned out to be a mismatch.

"It tells you that the teenagers are too cocky," said three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, a commentator for NBC-TV.

A Novotna-Tauziat final won't do much to boost network ratings, but give them credit for refusing to act their age. Many of their contemporaries have retired, and in combined years they're the oldest Wimbledon women's finalists since 1977.

"It really doesn't matter how old you are. Most important is how you feel," Novotna said. "Nathalie and I are playing very similar tennis. Our tennis is based on experience, and that's what we have shown in this championship."

The pairing is surprising given the hype accompanying the teen-age vanguard, but the youngsters also came up short last month at the French Open, where Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat Monica Seles in the final.

Attrition took a toll on the teens at Wimbledon. The photogenic Kournikova dealt the London tabloids a blow when she withdrew before the tournament with a thumb injury. Hingis lost in the semifinals, then denied that she's washed up at 17.

Venus Williams lost to Novotna in the quarterfinals but won plaudits for throwing the tournament's best temper tantrum. Younger sister Serena Williams, citing a sore calf, curiously quit a match two games from defeat to save herself for mixed doubles the next day.

Novotna and Tauziat, meanwhile, quietly worked their way through another yet Grand Slam. It's the 45th for Novotna and the 43rd for Tauziat.

Neither has won a major title and Tauziat had never reached a Grand Slam semifinal. Novotna, however, is a two-time Wimbledon runnerup remembered for sobbing on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent after blowing a big lead in the 1993 final.

"She's not the youngest player on the tour anymore," Hingis said. "Sometimes it seems like the older, the better. If you see Tauziat on the other side in the finals, it's amazing, you know? I hope it's going to be like that with me also - the older, the smarter, the cleverer, the better."

With maturity, the third-seeded Novotna seems to have overcome a longstanding reputation for choking. She lost to Hingis in last year's final but coolly avenged that defeat Thursday, earning a standing ovation from a crowd well aware of her past suffering on Centre Court.

"Let's just hope what the Duchess of Kent said last year is right," Novotna said. "She said, `Third time lucky,' so here I am."

Tauziat is the first Frenchwoman to reach a Wimbledon final since Suzanne Lenglen won her sixth title in 1925. Lenglen became legendary not only because of her talent, but because she wore short skirts, played without a corset and sipped brandy during matches.

Tauziat, on the other hand, is an obscure 15-year veteran who had sportscasters scrambling for pronunciation guides (it's TOE-zee-ott) when she became the lowest-seeded finalist in Wimbledon history at No. 16.

"I have nothing to lose," Tauziat said. "For me it's going to be a nice present to be on Centre Court. If I play my best tennis, I think I can win."

She almost sounded like a brash teenager.