The late Jana Novotna, who died in November, 2017, at the age of 49, after a long battle with cancer, won 24 professional ladies’ tennis singles titles and, in her heyday, was ranked number two in the world. Born in the former Moravian capital, Brno, in the days before the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, Novotna won just one ‘Grand Slam’ ladies’ singles title, at Wimbledon in 1998. However, she will always be fondly remembered for her agonising defeat, from a seemingly unassailable position, in the Wimbledon ladies’ single final in 1993.
Seeded eight, Novotna beat fourth seed Gabriela Sabbatini 6-4, 6-3 in her quarter-final and second seed Martina Navratilova 6-4, 6-4 in her semi-final to set up a final meeting with first seed and defending champion Steffi Graf. Graf won the first set 7-6, 8-6 in a tie-breaker, but Novotna continued to execute her trademark serve-and-volley tactics with a degree of confidence.
Novotna won the second set 6-1, losing just four points on her serve, and took a 4-1 lead in the third. However, in the sixth game, leading 40-30, she served a double fault and, at that point, a nervous realisation may have dawned on her. In any event, she missed a forehand volley and an overhead to gift Graf a service break and never really recovered.
Thereafter Graf took control, winning the next four games and clinching the title 7-6, 1-6, 6-4 with a decisive overhead smash. Visibly distraught after suffering one of the most famous collapses in sporting history, a tearful Novotna was comforted by Duchess of Kent during the ensuing trophy presentation. Thankfully, her words of consolation, ‘I know you will win it one day, don’t worry’, proved prophetic five years later, when Novotna beat Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets.