On November 19, 2017, the world of tennis was forced to come to terms with the incredibly sad news that former Grand Slam champion Jana Novotna had sadly lost her lengthy battle with cancer. The WTA announced the passing of the former World number two leaving fans to reflect on her array of triumphs within the game. During her career, the Czech secured 24 WTA single titles with her off-court warmth and compassion making her extremely popular on the circuit.
She became just the fifth female player to pass the $10 million in career prize money shortly before announcing her retirement from the game in 1999. Some argued that Novotna never quite reached her full potential but she was involved in a number of memorable matches throughout her career.
Novotna will be largely remembered for her exploits at the All England Club where she appeared in two Wimbledon finals but clinching the Venus Rosewater dish just once in 1998. SW19 was the scene of her only Grand Slam success, beating Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets as she bounced back from previous disappointment in West London. She also had to overcome Venus Williams and Martina Hingis en route to success. At the time she was the oldest champion in the Open Era aged just 29 years old but this has since been surpassed by a number of players including Serena Williams, who has been priced up as the 3/1 favourites for Wimbledon 2018 despite missing the majority of the previous season through pregnancy. Novotna’s exploits in the 1995 showpiece will be remembered by many tennis fans during the final which saw her just five points away from beating Steffi Graf. She served one of the most iconic double faults in the history of the game with her second serve going three-feet long and her confidence slowly beginning to ebb away. The image of her crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent after the game is etched on the minds of many tennis fans with the royal telling the Czech player: “I know you will win it one day, don’t worry”.
Novotna proved she was just as effective on different surfaces and regularly progressed to the latter stages of the Australian Open. Her seemingly risky serve and volley game, which involved regularly appearing at the net, has inspired many players including Marion Bartoli and Barbora Krejcikova, both of whom she coached and her style proved particularly effective in Melbourne. She ended Steffi Graf’s dominance in the tournament back in 1991, bringing the curtain down on her 25-match winning streak down under. Novotna was aggressive at the net and forced Graf into uncharacteristic mistakes to eventually take the match 5-7, 6-4, 8-6. She’d gradually worn down her opponent and won to love in the final game, celebrating her success effusively on court. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to wrap up her first ever Grand Slam title with Monica Seles triumphing in three sets during the final but it’s her success in the quarters over the seemingly imperious Graf which will live long in the memory. She never managed to recreate her exploits although she did progress to the Quarter-Finals just three years later.
Novotna didn’t just have tremendous success in singles events; she was also a very talented doubles player and her tendency to play the serve and volley game was particularly effective in this sphere. She collected 16 Grand Slam doubles titles during her glittering career including the 1995 Australian Open final, where she teamed up with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario to beat Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva to pick up her 11th Grand Slam doubles title. 1998 was a memorable year for the Czech player, as she also wrapped up the Women’s doubles title at SW19 alongside Swiss maestro Martina Hingis defeating Lindsay Davenport and Natasha Zvereva, who failed to get the better of Novotna on numerous occasions. The two players’ contrasting styles complimented one another perfectly and they thoroughly deserved their success. This proved to be 17-year-old Hingis’ last Wimbledon doubles final until teaming up with Sania Mirza in 2015. Novotna won three of the four Grand Slam titles in 1998 with only the Australian Open proving elusive.
Jana Novotna was hugely popular both on and off the court and her tenacious and ambitious style has been hugely influential to many players who have followed in her footsteps including Roberta Vinci and the aforementioned Marion Bartoli. Her legacy lives on and her many appearances at Grand Slams will be fondly remembered by fans and spectators who were lucky enough to catch the Czech player in action.