Jana Novotna

Week 214 (17 - 24 November)

Earlier this week, former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna lost her battle with cancer, aged just 49. But it is her story of triumph over adversity that continues to serve as an inspiration for sports fans all over the world.  

The iconic image of Novotna being consoled on Wimbledon’s Centre Court by the Duchess of Kent will go down as one of the tournament’s most memorable moments. In the 1993 ladies Wimbledon final, leading the deciding set 4-1 against Steffi Graf, Novotna’s nerves got the better of her and she double faulted, letting the game and eventually the Championship slip away.

Following the match, as she went up to collect her runner’s up plate, Novotna broke down on the Duchess’ shoulder. It was a devastating loss for a player who had also lost the Australian Open final two years previously.

It took five years, and another Wimbledon final loss, but in 1998 Novotna was triumphant at SW19, defeating Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets to become the oldest first-time winner of the competition, aged 29.

However, Novotna was not defined by her singles titles. In a career spanning 12 years, Novotna won 16 more Grand Slams, 12 in doubles and four more in mixed doubles. She won three Olympic Games medals across both singles and doubles competitions, as well as finding success in both the Hopman and Fed Cups.

"She had a really aggressive game style, a lot of variety, and she made life very difficult but it was a game that took a long time to develop which I think is why everyone was so utterly thrilled for her when she finally realised those dreams of winning Wimbledon,” former British number one Anabel Croft said.

Virginia Wade, who won the Wimbledon title in 1977, said she had a "quiet competitiveness”, and that “she was steely on the inside”, but it was her attitude off the court that set her apart.

“Jana had a smile that took over her seriously competitive face easily. Her sense of humour was as underrated as her slice backhand,” said Pam Shriver, who both competed against and commentated with Novotna.

“After she won Wimbledon, I don't recall a more popular and ecstatic locker room. We all felt she handled the collapse against Graf as well as any human could. She deserved a Wimbledon singles title and she got one.”

After the crushing disappointment of 1993, and then again in the Wimbledon final in 1997, Novotna must have considered whether she had missed her golden opportunity. But in a moment of quiet on Centre Court, the Duchess had told her that she would return as champion.

Not only did she achieve her dream, but Novotna’s drive, persistence and passion for sport encompasses everything that a role model should be. It is her overall attitude that makes Jana Novotna the JTA Communicator of the Week.

Photo: Flickr