Sport is about winners. But the 1993 Wimbledon women’s singles final was all about the loser. As Jana Novotna broke down and wept on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder, we all felt for her. She had not only lost, she had lost when victory seemed certain. She was a choker, and that’s how it looked like she’d be remembered forever. Only it didn’t turn out that way.
Jana Novotna, who has died at the age of 49 following a long battle with cancer, was different from many of the other players of her era. Born in the former Czechoslovakia, her engineer and schoolteacher parents were sporty, but not at all pushy. Novotna didn’t pick up a racquet till she was eight, and didn’t decide she wanted to be a professional tennis player till she was 14.
Novotna was 24 years old when she faced Steffi Graf in the Wimbledon singles final. She was the number eight seed. Graf was the hot favourite.
In the final set, Novotna led 4-1 and 40-30. She was just five points away from Wimbledon victory.