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Novotna feels some sweet relief

This time Jana Novotna's collapse came after the match.

Novotna barely rose above her reputation for choking in Wednesday's quarterfinals at the Lipton Championships. She survived 63 unforced errors and 2{ hours in the sun to outlast Iva Majoli 6-2, 3-6, 7-6 (9-7).

When Majoli blew an overhead on the final point, Novotna crumpled at the baseline and remained flat on her back for 10 seconds, flinging her headband in celebration.

"It was just such a relief that you could not believe it," Novotna said. "I was just lying there saying, "That's it. I don't have to run any farther.' "

The third-seeded Novotna advanced to today's semifinals against top seed Martina Hingis, who blitzed No. 10 Mary Joe Fernandez 6-4, 6-1. Trailing 4-3 in the first set, Hingis won 10 consecutive points to seize the momentum, and she lost only 12 points in the second set.

Novotna has beaten Hingis in their two most recent matches. No. 4 Monica Seles and No. 11 Barbara Paulus meet in the other semifinal tonight.

While Novotna stumbled past Majoli, top-ranked Pete Sampras won by walkover against unseeded Hendrik Dreekmann, who couldn't take the court due to a sprained ankle.

Sampras' opponent in the semifinals Friday will be Sergi Bruguera, who beat unseeded Andrei Medvedev 6-0, 6-3. Bruguera lost only three points in the first set and raced to a 5-0 lead in the second.

Dreekmann sprained his right ankle Tuesday night when he tripped over uneven pavement while walking to his hotel after dinner.

"It was really dark, and I didn't see the bump," Dreekmann said. "I knew it was bad as soon as I fell to the ground."

The tournament doctor said the 22-year-old Dreekmann, ranked 54th, would be sidelined for at least 10 days.

The Novotna-Majoli match was hardly an artistic triumph. The eighth-seeded Majoli had 52 unforced errors and 14 double faults, meaning nearly two-thirds of the points ended with a mistake.

A frustrated Majoli once pointed at her head and cocked her thumb, as if shooting herself. In the third set, Novotna put her hand to her throat after losing a point.

Novotna will forever be remembered for blowing a 4-1 lead against Steffi Graf in the 1993 Wimbledon final, a breakdown that left her crying on the Duchess of Kent's shoulder after the match. Two years later, Novotna squandered a 5-0, 40-0 third-set lead against Chanda Rubin at the French Open.

So when she lost two match points in the tiebreaker _ floating a backhand wide, then hitting a forehand 6 feet out _ it was easy to conclude she was destined for defeat.