Jana Novotna: Czech tennis player who won Wimbledon in a huge comeback she was never given credit for

When Jana Novotna misplaced the Wimbledon ultimate to Steffi Graf in 1993, she famously used the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder to cry on. It was probably the most poignant moments in televised tennis – a picture so highly effective it got here to outline her profession.

Some observers believed she had caved in in the course of the match whereas the player herself maintained she had misplaced her rhythm.

“Novotna blasted her second serve three feet out,” wrote The Independent’s Simon O’Hagan on the time. “Deuce. Then a simple volley that landed about six feet out. Advantage Graf. Finally, a smash that wasn’t even close to getting over the net. Game Graf. 2-4. Within 15 minutes it was 6-4 to Graf, and one of the great ‘bottle jobs’ was complete.”

The British player Sue Barker agreed: “No player wants to be thought of as a bottler, and if you’d asked me on the morning of the final whether I thought Jana was one, I wouldn’t have said so … she’ll have to work twice as hard to lose it.”

Work Novotna did however she stays remembered not for successful Wimbledon in 1998 however for dropping to Graf 5 years earlier.

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The Duchess of Kent hugs Novotna after she misplaced to defending champion Steffi Graf in the ladies’s singles ultimate at Wimbledon in 1993 (PA)

The Czech player, who has died of most cancers aged 49, retired in 1999. She was ranked quantity two in the world at her peak, famend as an instinctive serve-volleyer who lived for the sport.

In 2005 she was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame, after having notched 100 profession titles, together with 24 for singles and 76 for doubles.

As an Olympian, she won the silver medal in the ladies’s doubles at each the 1988 Games in Seoul and the 1996 Games in Atlanta, the place she additionally took bronze in the ladies’s singles.

After her well-known loss to Graf, Novotna obtained the runner-up plate from the Duchess of Kent who, in consoling her, mentioned:  “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry”.

Five years later, aged 29, she did, defeating Nathalie Tauziat of France, 6-Four, 7-6, (7-2) – the primary and solely time she was to raise the Wimbledon singles trophy.

After turning professional as a doubles player in 1987, she went on to clock 16 Grand Slam doubles and combined doubles titles – and took the uncommon flip of establishing herself as a singles player as an grownup in 1990.

Her Wimbledon victory in 1998 got here after she beat Martina Hingis of Switzerland in the semi-final, having misplaced to her a 12 months earlier. She had crushed Venus Williams in the quarter-final.

At the age of 29, this made her the “oldest winner of a first major singles title in history” – this time the Duchess of Kent was witness to her comfortable tears.

In 1991, Novotna ended Graf’s three-year, 25-match reign on the Australian Open. She later mentioned that was one thing “I always treasure”, including Graf “was winning her matches in 35, 40 minutes”.

She listed Graf and Monica Seles as the best gamers she ever confronted. Her tennis hero was Martina Navratilova, whose footsteps she adopted in changing into a “super-coach”. She additionally commentated for the BBC.

In an interview in 2015, she mentioned: “People think that losing to Steffi Graf in 1993 was a bad experience. For me, it was the best thing that happened to my life. The next day, because of everything that happened during the ceremony and during the match, I opened the newspapers and I was on the front page of every newspaper, I felt like a winner.”

But she conceded: “Now it’s something that people remember more than me actually winning Wimbledon.”

Novotna was born in the town of Brno, in what was then Czechoslovakia. Her father was an engineer, and her mom was a  trainer.

She took to soccer as a baby and began taking part in tennis when she was eight. At 14, she joined a tennis membership and had selected the game as a career.

Early on she was famous for her serve-volleys. She educated with fellow Czech player Hana Mandlikova, who had retired in 1990, in Belgium, “where the facilities are so much better than Czechoslovakia”, she mentioned.

She is survived by her companion, the previous Polish tennis player Iwona Kuczynska, her mother and father and her brother Pavel.

Jana Novotna, born 2 October 1968, died 19 November 2017

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