A special group of people enjoyed a heartfelt holiday-season treat December 5, when the legendary Martina Navratilova was guest of honor at a virtual fundraiser with WTA Charities and Cancer Research Racquet in support of the Aceing Cancer campaign.

The Zoom event (pictured below), co-hosted by tennis luminaries Pam Shriver and Mary Carillo, was a chance to raise funds and say thank you to major donors and other supporters of campaign efforts, which this year have raised more than $100,000 to help fund a women’s cancer researcher in the name of Czech star Jana Novotna.

“Jana was something special, and she fought the good fight,” said Carillo of the 1998 Wimbledon champion, who succumbed to ovarian cancer in 2017. “When it came to her own battle with cancer she did so independently, so privately – and that had to be hard.”

WTA Charities first teamed up with Cancer Research Racquet, an international volunteer group, in 2019 to fund a three-year research grant in memory of Elena Baltacha, the much-loved British player who lost her battle with liver cancer in 2015.

Proceeds raised through Aceing Cancer are donated to the American Cancer Society, which identifies deserving candidates for the grants. The partnership’s first award was to Dr Timothy Trotter of Duke University School of Medicine, in support of his research project titled “Investigating the Adaptive Immune Response to Dormant Tumor Cells.”

“What this group does, raising money in support of cancer research rocks stars, is both important and very personal to each of us,” said Rob Kinas, co-founder of Cancer Research Racquet. “It is our joy to collaborate with WTA Charities to fund grants in memory of WTA players who bravely fought the disease.”

On this month’s call, Navratilova shared her experiences of dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis in 2010, and paid tribute to the giving nature of her friend Novotna.

“On the tennis court you are alone, and normally I’d try to forge ahead by myself but when you battle cancer, you have the opportunity to surround yourself with friends and positivity while you go through it,” said the former World No.1. “At the time that I was being treated in Paris, Jana was living there, just a block or so away. She either drove me to radiation or she would give me her car to drive myself, and in the evenings we would have a glass of champagne and just reminisce around the coffee table. She was very supportive.”

Navratilova and Novotna play together on a pink court in 2012

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Having lost her sister and father to cancer, as well as first husband Joe Shapiro, a reflective Shriver admitted she could find it difficult to offer positive support to others – even Navratilova, her close doubles partner. And yet, with time the Hall of Famer had come to understand that “our family members lived with great grace, with cancer. While they had their struggles and battles, we think they had their own beautiful journey, of living with this tough disease.”

On a lighter note, the Cancer Research Racquet supporters who dialed in were able to submit questions for the panel, and topics ranged from the importance of fun in team dynamics to the virtues of automated line calling.

The fundraiser was also highlighted by a musical performance by Jared Harper, son of former WTA player Peanut Louie Harper, who sang a song called “Better Together”.

“WTA Charities mission focuses on health and wellness, youth education and leadership, and ensuring equality and inclusivity for all,” said Ann Austin, executive director of WTA Charities. Austin reported that $20,000 will be donated to this year’s grant for every ace served at the recent J&T Banka Open in Ostrava, Czech Republic, which also coincided with Breast Cancer awareness month.  All proceeds from November and December sales of the WTA Cookbook will also go toward this year’s grant.

To make a donation to the “Aceing Cancer” initiative visit wtatennis.com/aceingcancer

Remembering Jana Novotna