ESPN analyst and Hall of Famer Pam Shriver joins the WTA Insider Podcast to reflect on the sad and stunning news that former World No.2 Jana Novotna has died at the age of 49. The Czech legend passed away peacefully after a private battle with cancer on Sunday, November 19th.
Novotna retired from tennis in 1999, after a 14-year-career in which she won 24 singles titles, including the 1998 Wimbledon title, and 76 doubles titles. In addition to reaching a career-high No.2 ranking in singles, Novotna also sat atop the doubles ranking at No.1 during her career.
"She was just a superior athlete," Shriver says on the Insider Podcast. "She had a wicked slice backhand that on a grass court would come up an inch and a half. When she was confident and firing on all cylinders, honestly, on certain surfaces, she was your worst nightmare."
Hear Shriver reflect on Novotna's inspiring life and career on the newest episode of the WTA Insider podcast below:
"I think for people who just follow professional tennis, her mark will be one of grit and determination," Shriver says. "Going back to that Wimbledon final, a lot of athletes don't do that. They have their great collapse and they never can recover.
"It wasn't like Jana was this slam dunk all-time great. She wasn't like Navratilova, who went on to win 18. It could have very well could have played out that she never would win her Wimbledon. I think it's one of the happier stories of somebody just hanging tough and going back to the site of their saddest competitive moment and not letting them kick her down forever. She kept persevering."
As Shriver says, Novotna was most famously known for her dramatic loss to Stefanie Graf in the 1993 Wimbledon final, which saw her squander a double-break lead at 4-1 in the third - and coming within a point of 5-1 - before nerves overtook her. That gut-wrenching loss led to one of the most famous sporting images in history, as Novotna openly wept in the arms of the Duchess of Kent during the trophy ceremony.
"She probably had the most memorable loss in the history of women's tennis," Shriver says. "It wasn't just that she lost to Graf, but it was how she lost. Some of the shots, how much they missed by, it was just very clear to anyone that played that it was just a tenseness that happens where you can't function the way you normally function. Your misses become big, and then it's magnified because you're playing on the most famous court in the world in the biggest match, against the greatest, it was all too much.
"So then five years later, for her to finally win Wimbledon, I think everybody was cheering for her to win one."
The "tennis gods" did not forget Novotna, whose athletic, serve and volley game was perfectly suited for grass courts. Though she would come up short in two Wimbledon finals, Novotna would get her day in the sun on Centre Court in 1998, when she defeated Nathalie Tauziat to finally win Wimbledon. Novotna was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005 and continued to do commentary, play invitationals, and coach towards the end of her life.
"There's an irony in how public her grief was upon losing that match - It was the exact opposite to how she chose to lead the end of her life, in such a private way," Shriver says. "As public as one thing was, as private was the last stage of her life, which I find an interesting juxtaposition."
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