Jana Novotná started out as a well-known doubles player and remained so throughout her career. However, she developed into a top-flight singles player best known for her failures and triumphs at Wimbledon, perfectly exemplifying the words from the Kipling poem that are emblazoned above the All-England Club’s entrance to Centre Court, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same.”
Novotná reached four Grand Slam singles finals. She lost the final of the 1987 Australian Open to Monica Seles in three sets. In 1993 Novotná reached the Wimbledon final where she faced Steffi Graf. The match went into the third set, which Novotá led 4-1, and had a game point on serve for 5-1, but the pressure overcame her, and Graf won that game and then won the final five games, to win the set, the match, and the tournament. At the victory ceremony, when Novotná was given her runner-up trophy by the Duchess of Kent, she famously cried on the Duchess’s shoulder.
Novotná returned to the Wimbledon final in 1997, but lost again in three sets, that time to Martina Hingis. In 1998, Novotná finally overcame her demons on Centre Court, winning Wimbledon by defeating Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets, in one of the most popular Wimbledon victories ever. She received her trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish, from the Duchess of Kent. Novotná was the oldest woman in the Open Era to win her first Grand Slam title.
Novotná won 24 professional singles titles in her career but the 1998 Wimbledon was her only Grand Slam, although she did win the 1997 Tour Final. In doubles, she won 12 Grand Slams, and added four Grand Slam titles in mixed doubles. In all, she won 76 doubles titles. She achieved a career best singles rank of #2 in 1997 and had a best doubles rank of #1.
Novotná settled in Florida, doing some tennis commentary on television, until returning to her hometown of Brno in the Czech Republic, eventually building a home in the small neighboring village of Omice, where she lived with her partner. She died very young, at age 49, after a long battle with cancer, which she fought very privately. She was the first women’s Grand Slam champion of the Open Era to pass away.
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