Former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna has died at the age of 49.
The Women’s Tennis Association said Novotna, who had cancer, “died peacefully, surrounded by her family”. The Czech player had lost in the Wimbledon final in 1993 and 1997 before winning the Grand Slam tournament in 1998 by beating Nathalie Tauziat.
Novotna captured the hearts of fans when she burst into tears after losing to German great Steffi Graf in 1993 and was consoled by the Duchess of Kent.
“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” said WTA chief executive Steve Simon. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA. Our condolences and our thoughts are with Jana’s family.”
Novotna was renowned for her serve-and-volley game, and achieved a career-high singles ranking of number two. In addition to her only singles Grand Slam win at Wimbledon, she claimed 12 Grand Slam doubles titles and four in mixed doubles.
She was also inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.
It was Novotna’s exploits at Wimbledon which particularly endeared her to supporters, especially the 1993 defeat by Graf at the All England Club. The Czech player looked to be on course for the title. Novotna had a 4-1 lead in the third set and was a point away from going 5-1 up only to serve a double fault and lose five games in a row as she was beaten 7-6 (8-6) 1-6 6-4.
A shoulder to cry on
She started crying when presented with her trophy before the Duchess of Kent put a comforting arm around her and gave her a shoulder to shed her tears on during emotional scenes on Centre Court.
Novotna said the Duchess had told her “she would do it” when she went to collect her trophy and, despite losing to Martina Hingis in 1997, she finally won Wimbledon a year later. In doing so, she became the then oldest first-time Grand Slam singles winner in the Open era at 29 years and nine months.
Novotna gave an interview to BBC World Service’s Sporting Witness in 2015 during which she spoke about the 1993 final. “The next day, even though I was sad and disappointed, I opened the newspaper and my picture with the Duchess of Kent was on the front pages,” she said. “For a moment, it felt like I was the winner and that was a great feeling. I still have the newspapers, they’re beautiful pictures and I think it showed the human side of professional tennis, which most of the people came to remember instead of me losing.”
She added: “It wouldn’t sound great to say the 1993 final was the one I was most proud of because I lost the match when I was ahead. “But it meant so much for me and maybe it made me a better player, a better person and maybe that match helped me to accomplish a lot more in my career. “If I could do it again I would – all of it – except I would win Wimbledon three times this time around.”
Jana Novotna was born on Oct 2nd 1968 in Brno, The Czech Republic, and died on Nov 19th 2017 in the same town.