Karel Nováček

Born: March 30, 1965 in Prostějov (Moravia)
Height: 1.90 m
Plays: Right-handed
One of the biggest malcontents on the tour. Discontent with everything surrounding him from the first points of a match. Grimaces, throwing rackets (once even towards the umpire!), jeering at the linespersons. I’m not sure he was like that already as a young player or off the court; the negative aspects I write about him are what I remember from watching his matches in the 90s, what I noted about him at the time he was active. Dangerous – tennis-wise – mainly on clay courts. He showed his potential for the first time in 1986, triumphing in Washington (on clay at the time!) as a player ranked No. 110. En route to the title, he defeated six players, four of whom were clay-court specialists. He had to wait until 1991 for his best season – that year he won four titles (three of those finals against Magnus Gustafsson, the biggest one occurred in Hamburg). That year he shared the court five times with Gustafsson, losing to him inter alia in the French Open first round. They were both Top 20 players then, both could count on going far in Paris, so it was a very brutal first-round match-up, impossible after the change of rules for seeded players (in 2001). For a few years Nováček had a status of one of the best players who had never reached a major semifinal.
His third quarterfinal opportunity came not in Paris, but in New York ’94. I had never seen Nováček before being so calm, as he convinced himself that only utter focus would guarantee him a win over Jaime Yzaga. The Czech player kept his composure after squandering chances to win that match much more quickly: he wasted six set points from leading 5:2* in the 2nd set, and a 5:4* (30/0) lead in the 4th set. Nováček fired career-best 28 aces and ultimately left the court as a winner 6-2, 6-7, 6-1, 5-7, 6-3. “It was the dream destination to break the quarterfinals of the Grand Slams, and I am endlessly happy that I did it today,” Nováček said. “I won 13 tournaments. I have been playing Davis Cup. I have been playing Masters. I have been playing everything that basically exists in tennis, but I never went to play in the semifinals of Grand Slams.” Earlier, in the third round, he’d survived a rare match withstanding match points in sets 3 and 5 (Todd Woodbridge). In the semifinal, he lost in straights to Michael Stich, a player whom Nováček beat in straights a few months later in Melbourne, so in retrospect, he can think that a major final was really within his grasp. Following the Australian Open ’95, he was losing almost everything and decided to retire at the age of 31.
Similarly to his team colleague Petr Korda from the Czechoslovakian times, Nováček had all strokes very classical, but he lacked Korda’s finesse. At the time they were both at their peaks (early 90s), their older compatriot Ivan Lendl wasn’t interested in representing Czechoslovakia anymore; he was applying for US citizenship. It’s a pity for Czechoslovak tennis because in the years 1991-93, with the still fit Lendl on the board, and good young doubles players like Daniel Vacek (alert: different pronunciation than “váček”… the /tʃ/ vs /ts/ distinction) and Martin Damm, Korda and Nováček could have had a big chance to triumph in the Davis Cup (they lost in the quarterfinals those years, to Yugoslavia, USA & Germany respectively) as well as in the World Team Cup (they played the ’92 final against Spain).
Trivia: Nováček [48] was in sensational form at Roland Garros ’87, dropping just four games in his first eight sets of the tournament (!), against average players nonetheless: Dutchman Tom Nijssen 6-2, 6-1, 6-0; “triple bagel” against Eduardo Bengoechea of Argentina; and Eric Winogradsky of France 6-1, 6-0, 2-6, 6-4. In the quarterfinal he lost to fellow Czechoslovak.
Career record: 300–246 [ 242 events ]
Career titles: 13
Highest ranking: No. 8
Best GS results:
Roland Garros (quarterfinal 1987, 1993)
US Open (semifinal 1994)
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