November 20, 2017
Wimbledon will never forget Jana Novotna, who has died of cancer at the age of 49.
Her tears splashed onto a special page in the tennis history books. They didn’t smudge or stain that page, they only enhanced the beauty of the Wimbledon story.
Those tears left a lasting and touching reminder of something we all too easily forget – that sport is played by vulnerable human beings and not machines.
Jana’s raw emotion added something magical, something truly unique to the ongoing drama that is Wimbledon.
It was the 1993 Wimbledon final, when Novotna was 4-1 up in the third set against the great Steffi Graf. The Czech star seemed to see the finishing line and suddenly freeze. Ruthlessly, the German seized her chance to recover and triumphed 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 6-4.
As the Duchess of Kent gave Jana the loser’s trophy, she burst into tears and the royal gave her a shoulder to cry on. It was an extraordinary moment. British royalty comforting a woman who had let her dream slip away in front of millions.
Novotna soon realised the significance of these scenes. When she saw the newspapers the following day, she saw her own picture on the front page, not Graf’s.
Looking back, she said: ‘For a moment it felt like I was the winner and that was a great feeling. I still have the newspapers, they’re beautiful pictures and I think it showed the human side of professional tennis.’
People remembered Novotna’s defeat more than her victory in the 1998 Wimbledon final. Yes, Jana was a champion singles star who bounced back and did eventually achieve that dream. She also achieved a Career Slam in the doubles. She was some player.
Above all, Jana Novotna was a warm and emotional human being, whose life has ended too early. She captured all our hearts on Centre Court – and she will always be loved for that and much more. May she rest in peace.