PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Last week’s J&T Banka Prague Open played host to a series of special events to celebrate the life and career of much-loved Czech star Jana Novotna, who lost her battle with cancer last November at the age of 49.
Family, friends and colleagues of the 1998 Wimbledon champion, who rose to World No.2 in singles and No.1 in doubles, gathered to remember Jana at Hergetova Cihelna, a popular restaurant on the banks of Prague’s beautiful Vltava River.
Read more: Touching tributes for Novotna
Novotna’s parents, Libuse Novotna and Frantisek Novotny, were guests of honor at the emotional evening which saw speeches by Czech legend Martina Navratilova, Novotna’s long-time agent Phil de Picciotto of Octagon and WTA President Micky Lawler, who presented a framed collage from the tour to Jana’s family.
Other notable attendees included Novotna’s former doubles partner and Fed Cup teammate Helena Sukova, Slovenia’s 1977 Roland Garros champion Mima Jausovec, and Czech ATP great Jan Kodes, who won three Grand Slam singles titles in the 1970s.
Younger Czech WTA players including Lucie Hradecka, Iveta Benesova, Klara Koukalova and Lenka Nemeckova also showed their respect and affection for one of their national heroines.
Navratilova said: "She did not know the word quit, she inspired so many [people]. And to this day she inspires me, and I think all of us, to strive for more. She always played tennis the way tennis should be played. As great a tennis player as she was, she was an even more special human being."
The following day, ahead of the singles final between Petra Kvitova and Mihaela Buzarnescu, a ceremony was held on court to give fans a chance to pay their respects with a minute’s silence.
With former player and tournament director Petra Cernoskova and the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Senior Vice President, Global Business Dianne Hayes watching on, Navratilova presented Novotna’s parents with Jana’s Hall of Fame Ring. Novotna, who as well as Wimbledon won the WTA Finals in 1997 among 24 singles titles, and 76 doubles titles including 12 majors, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005.
The Czech Mint also took the opportunity to recognize Novotna’s contribution to her sport and country by issuing a commemorative coin bearing her resemblance. Navratilova and Kodes were similarly honoured as part of the mint’s Czech Legends Series, which also includes Wimbledon winners Jaroslav Drobny and Kvitova.