|Ms. Novotna famously cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder in 1993 after losing the women’s singles final at Wimbledon. She triumphed at the same tournament five years later.|
Women’s Tennis Association confirmed her death in a statement, which did not specify where in her native country she died. She had cancer.
Novotna won 17 Grand Slam titles over her career, 16 of them in doubles and mixed doubles, as well as three Olympic medals. But it was her singles career that came to define her.
She had sought for years to dominate the lawn at Wimbledon. In 1993, she appeared to be on the verge of just such a victory. Up 4-1 in the final set against Steffi Graf, Novotna lost the match, 7-6 (8-6), 1-6, 6-4.
As the trophies were being presented, the Czech tennis player cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder. “Jana, I believe that you will do it, don’t worry,” the duchess told her, by Novotna’s account.
Novotna, then 29, defeated Nathalie Tauziat of France 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) to lift the Wimbledon singles trophy for the first and only time.
“Jana was an inspiration both on and off the court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” said Steve Simon, the W.T.A.’s chief executive. “Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the W.T.A.”
Novotna turned professional in 1987 and initially drew attention as a doubles player. She began to make a name for herself as a singles player in 1990 — eight years before she won the women’s singles title at Wimbledon.
Known for her serve-and-volley game, she was ranked 13th among women players by 1990. By 1993, she was facing off with Graf in the Wimbledon finals. She returned to the tournament finale in 1997, but lost to Martina Hingis of Switzerland.
The following year, Novotna beat Venus Williams in the quarterfinal and exacted some measure of revenge by defeating Hingis in the semifinal. By beating Tauziat, she became the oldest first-time female Grand Slam champion in the Open era. (That record stood until 2010, when Francesca Schiavone of Italy won the French Open less than three weeks before her 30th birthday.)
Novotna reached the final of the Australian Open once and appeared in the semifinals of the French Open and the United States Open, but Wimbledon was her only Grand Slam singles victory. She retired with 100 tournament titles — 76 in doubles and 24 in singles.
Novotna retired from professional tennis in 1999. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.
Her death sparked a strong reaction in the Czech Republic among former coaches, competitors and sporting officials.
“When she lost to Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1993, I was crying,” said Jan Kodes, a fellow Czech tennis player who won three Grand Slams — including one Wimbledon title — in the 1970s. “She came to me and said, ‘Mr. Kodes, don’t cry, I will win it here one day anyhow.’ ”
“And she did five years later,” Kodes said, as quoted by the Czech news website Idnes. “Jana certainly was a player who became a role model for many young girls.”
Ivo Kaderka, president of the Czech Tennis Association, described Novotna as a domestic tennis legend whose impact extended beyond the sport.
“Despite winning Wimbledon, she remained a pleasant, normal intelligent girl, who always came to support us and cheer,” Kaderka said. “Who would have thought she would leave so soon?”
Novotna’s former coach, Hana Mandlikova, told the Czech Press Agency that the tennis star’s death at a young age made it “difficult to find words.”
“Jana was a great girl,” Mandlikova said. “I am very happy it worked out for her in Wimbledon eventually.”