Athlete Profile: Jana Novotna
Born: October 2, 1968
Died: November 19, 2017 (aged 49)
Birthplace: Brno, Czech Republic
Highest Singles Ranking: 2
Plays: Right-handed (one-handed backhand)
Coaches: Mike Estep and Hana Mandlíková
Career Titles: 24 WTA, 2 ITF
Residence: Omice, Czech Republic
If there was a word to summarize Jana Novotna’s tennis career it would be grit. She wasn’t your typical all-time great but she rebounded from one of the greatest losses in WTA history with character and determination. It was during the Wimbledon finals of 1993 that Novotna “choked” in a close last set against Stefanie Graf. In one of the most human moments ever witnessed in the game of professional tennis, Novotna publicly wept on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent who greeted her with open arms, visibly careless about upholding some sort of royal etiquette.
Although Novotna’s infamous loss is remembered as being a “choke” that worsened as the match went on, some would argue that her long shots that were not out of character. She was a gutsy player who took risks rather than playing within the lines- literally and figuratively. She was an aggressive player who made bold moves on the court, which in the context of Wimbledon 1993, cost her the much desired Venus Rosewater Dish.
However, in the aftermath of her tragic death, this is not what should define Novotna. Throughout her 14-year career she peaked at No. 2 in the WTA rankings, won 17 grand slams, and sat on top of the doubles ranking at No. 1 for much of her career. She will be remembered as a superior athlete. Rightfully so, on certain surfaces Novotna was her competitors worst nightmare.
Four years later Novotna returned to Wimbledon’s Centre Court final and lost to Martina Hingis. Without giving up, Novotna braved the Wimbledon stage the next summer beating Nathalie Tauziat and finally getting her hand on that silver platter. She was 29, which at the time made her the oldest champion in the Open Era. She was later inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Czech tennis legend died in November of 2017 at age 49 to a private battle with cancer. Her resilience will be remembered for generations and her accomplishments, both in attitude athletic ability will be what defines her legacy.