Associated Press/file 1996
NEW YORK — Jana Novotna, the Czech tennis star who famously cried on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder after losing a Wimbledon singles final in 1993 and then triumphed at the same tournament five years later, died Sunday in the Czech Republic. She was 49.
The Women’s Tennis Association confirmed her death in a statement, which did not specify where in her native country she died. She had cancer.
Ms. Novotna won 17 major titles, 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, Ms. 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 Ms. Novotna’s account.
Five years later, she did.
Ms. 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, WTA’s chief executive.
Ms. Novotna turned professional in 1987 and initially drew attention as a doubles player.
Martina Navratilova, the tennis great who was also born in what was then Czechoslovakia and teamed with Ms. Novotna to win the ladies’ invitational doubles final at Wimbledon in 2010, tweeted: ‘‘The tennis world is so sad about the passing of Jana Novotna. I am gutted and beyond words. Jana was a true friend and an amazing woman.’’
Ms. Novotna began to make a name for herself as a singles player in 1990.
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 final. She returned to the tournament finale in 1997 but lost to Martina Hingis of Switzerland.
The following year, Ms. 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.
Ms. Novotna retired with 100 tournament titles — 76 in doubles and 24 in singles.
Even after retiring in 1999, Ms. Novotna was desperate to stay involved in tennis and became a commentator and coach.
‘‘I'm dependent on tennis,’’ she said in an interview two years ago. ‘‘A day without it would be terrible.’’
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