Jana Novotna, the Czech tennis star who famously cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after losing a Wimbledon singles final in 1993 and then triumphed at the same tournament five years later, has died. She was 49.
Novotna died in her native Czech Republic on Sunday, the Women’s Tennis Association said in a statement. She had cancer.
She won 17 Grand Slam titles, 16 of them in doubles and mixed doubles, as well as three Olympic medals. But it was her singles career that came to define her.
Novotna had sought for years to dominate the lawn at Wimbledon. In 1993, she appeared to be on the verge of just such a victory. Up 4-1 in the final set against Steffi Graf, Novotna lost the match, 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 6-4.
As the trophies were being presented, the Czech tennis player cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder.
“Jana, I believe that you will do it, don’t worry,” the royal told her, according to Novotna’s telling of the story.
Five years later, she did.
Novotna, then 29, defeated Nathalie Tauziat of France, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2), to lift the Wimbledon singles trophy for the first — and only — time.
“Jana was an inspiration both on and off the court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” said Steve Simon, WTA’s chief executive.
Novotna turned professional in 1987 and initially drew attention as a doubles player. She began to make a name for herself as a singles player in 1990 — eight years before she won the women’s singles title at Wimbledon.
Known for her serve-and-volley game, she was ranked 13th among women players by 1990. By 1993, she was facing off with Graf in the Wimbledon finals. She returned to the tournament finale in 1997 but lost to Martina Hingis of Switzerland.
The following year, she beat Venus Williams in the quarterfinal and exacted some measure of revenge by defeating Hingis in the semifinal. By beating Tauziat, she became the oldest first-time female Grand Slam champion in the Open era.
Novotna retired with 100 tournament titles — 76 in doubles and 24 in singles.