Former Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna has died at the age of 49.
The Women’s Tennis Association said Novotna, who had cancer, “died peacefully, surrounded by her family”.
The Czech player had lost in the Wimbledon final in 1993 and 1997 before winning the Grand Slam tournament when she beat Nathalie Tauziat in 1998.
Novotna captured the hearts of fans when she burst into tears after losing to German great Steffi Graf in 1993 and was consoled by the Duchess of Kent.
“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her,” said WTA chief executive Steve Simon.
“Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA. Our condolences and our thoughts are with Jana’s family.”Novotna was renowned for her serve and volley game and achieved a career-high singles ranking of number two.
In addition to her only singles Grand Slam win at Wimbledon, she claimed 12 Grand Slam doubles titles and four in mixed doubles.
She was also inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.
A shoulder to cry on
It was Novotna’s exploits at Wimbledon which particularly endeared her to supporters, especially the 1993 defeat by Graf at the All England club.
Novotna had a 4-1 lead in the third set and seemed on course for victory only to lose five games in a row and lose 7-6 (8-6) 1-6 6-4.
She started crying when presented with the loser’s trophy before the Duchess of Kent put a comforting arm around her and gave her a shoulder to shed her tears on during emotional scenes on Centre Court.
Novotna said the Duchess had told her “she would do it” when she went to collect her trophy and, despite losing to Martina Hingis in 1997, she finally won Wimbledon a year later.
In doing so, she became the oldest first-time Grand Slam singles winner in the Open era at 29 years and nine months.
‘It felt like I was the winner’
Novotna gave an interview to BBC World Service’s Sporting Witness in 2015 where she spoke about her career and the 1993 final.
“The next day, even though I was sad and disappointed, I opened the newspaper and my picture with the Duchess of Kent was on the front pages,” she said during the programme.
“For a moment it felt like I was the winner and that was a great feeling. I still have the newspapers, they’re beautiful pictures and I think it showed the human side of professional tennis, which most of the people came to remember instead of me losing.”
She added: “It wouldn’t sound great to say the 1993 final was the one I was most proud of because I lost the match when I was ahead.
“But it meant so much for me and maybe it made me a better player, a better person and maybe that match helped me to accomplish a lot more in my career.
“If I could do it again I would – all of it – except I would win Wimbledon three times this time around.”
BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller
The abiding image of Jana Novotna’s career is of her accepting – quite literally – a shoulder to cry on by the Duchess of Kent as she received the runners-up trophy at Wimbledon in 1993.
She had been in a winning position in her first final against the great Steffi Graf, but undeterred, she would be back.
Martina Hingis was too strong in the 1997 final, but just as the Duchess had predicted, it was third time lucky when Novotna made it through to the final again.
An instinctive serve-volleyer and a superb athlete, Novotna was also a brilliant doubles player: winning a total of 16 Grand Slam titles. She reached number two in singles and number one in doubles, won the Fed Cup with the Czech Republic and medals in both singles and doubles for her country at the Olympic Games.
In more recent years, she was a charming member of the BBC commentary team at Wimbledon. Jana was never ostentatious in her delivery, but her love for the sport shone out.
Jana’s microphone always needed a boost as she was so softly spoken. But she was born to play, and commentate, on Centre Court. Her words were carefully chosen, but the authority cut through.
Tributes to Jana Novotna
The All England Club is deeply saddened to hear the news of Jana Novotna’s passing. She was a true champion in all senses of the word, and her 1998 triumph will live long in the memory. The thoughts of all those at Wimbledon are with her family and friends.