Former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna dies aged 49

The Czech, who in total won 17 Grand Slam titles across singles, doubles, and mixed doubles, passed away yesterday following a battle with cancer.

Former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna dies aged 49
Jana Novotna with the Wimbledon title in 1998 (Getty/Gary M. Prior)

Tributes have been paid to former Wimbledon champion and singles world number two Jana Novotna, who passed away yesterday at the age of 49 following a battle with cancer.

Novotna, who was the world number one in doubles and won 12 grand slam titles in that discipline, as well as four mixed doubles titles, was most known for her emotional triumph at the All-England Club in 1998. She had lost the final in both 1993 and the previous year in 1997, though beat Nathalie Tauziat to win her first and only Grand Slam singles title. She was also a former runner-up at the Australian Open.

Novotna celebrates her sole Grand Slam singles title win with her mother (Getty/Mike Hewitt)
Novotna celebrates her sole Grand Slam singles title win with her mother (Getty/Mike Hewitt)

The news of Novotna’s death was announced “with deep sadness” by the WTA earlier today, with several tennis players or broadcasters paying tribute to the Czech, who was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005, in the past few hours.

Tributes paid to woman who lit up SW19

Novotna, whose serve and volley style made her stand out in the period where tennis was developing into the power game so often seen, undoubtedly had an incredible doubles career, winning 12 of the 23 women’s doubles Major finals she reached, completing the Career Grand Slam, and also won four mixed doubles titles. However, her lasting legacy will undoubtedly be her incredible triumph at Wimbledon in 1998.

At the age of 25, Novotna reached her first final at SW19 in 1993, where she went a double break up against defending champion Steffi Graf. Despite that advantage, the Czech eventually fell in the final and was inconsolable afterwards, with the image of her crying on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent one of the most famous in the tournament’s history. She would once again reach the final four years later, losing to Martina Hingis from a set up, though finally captured the title the following year, beating Hingis in the last four before seeing off Tauziat in straight sets in the final, much to the delight of the crowd and to the Duchess of Kent, who told Novotna after the 1993 final that she was sure that she would take the title one day.

Novotna is congratulated by the Duchess of Kent following her 1998 triumph (Getty/Gary M. Prior)
Novotna is congratulated by the Duchess of Kent following her 1998 triumph (Getty/Gary M. Prior)

With news of Novotna’s illness not having been made publicly prior to her death, several tennis players and broadcasters, who worked with her following her retirement from the sport in 20000, have paid tribute to her. Former world number seven Barbara Schett-Eagle, who had played in the legends doubles event at Wimbledon with her, described Novotna as being “a wonderful person” who had a “beautiful soul,” whilst Novotna’s fellow Czech Lucie Safarova commented that she was “shocked” about the “terrible news,” adding that she will be remembered as an “amazing athlete and a great person.” 

Wimbledon announced that all of those at the club were “deeply saddened” to hear of Novotna’s passing, commenting that she was a “true champion” whose “1998 triumph will live long in the memory,” whilst WTA CEO Steve Simon described her as “an inspiration both on and off the court.” WTA legend Pam Shriver commented that Novotna was “as kind as she was competitive,” whilst a former mixed doubles partner of hers, Todd Woodbridge, commented that he was “shocked and saddened” by the news. Long-time friend and compatriot Martina Navratilova commented that she was "gutted" to hear about Novotna's partnership, whilst Chris Evert said that it was a "devastating loss for those of us who shared a deep friendship with her."

Wimbledon paid tribute via Twitter following the sad news of Novotna's passing.
Wimbledon paid tribute via Twitter following the sad news of Novotna's passing.