Prague: Czech tennis player Jana Novotna, a Wimbledon champion in 1998 and 16-time Grand-Slam winner in doubles and mixed doubles, has died at the age of 49 after a long battle with cancer, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) said on Monday.
Novotna, who entered the tennis Hall of Fame in 2005, died surrounded by her family in the Czech Republic, the WTA said.
In a career spanning 14 years on the professional circuit that included 24 WTA singles titles and 76 doubles titles, Novotna finally won her only singles Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 1998 after losing in the final in 1993 and 1997.
She won the hearts of fans around the world when she burst into tears after throwing away victory against Steffi Graf in the 1993 final and was consoled afterwards by the Duchess of Kent.
“Jana was an inspiration both on and off court to anyone who had the opportunity to know her. Her star will always shine brightly in the history of the WTA,” WTA chief executive Steve Simon said in a statement.
Novotna stayed active in tennis after retiring through coaching, television commentary and attending major tournament and charity matches.
She mentored players such as 2013 Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli and fellow Czech Barbora Krejcikova.
Former US Open finalist Pam Shriver said on Twitter: “Jana was as kind as she was athletic, as smart as she was competitive. I can’t believe she is gone this soon. Her smile lives forever young.”
In 2015, Novotna spoke to Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes of her love for the sport and said she could not go a day without tennis.
“It would be horrible,” she said of that prospect.
Novotna reached world No. 2 in singles and was a No. 1 doubles player multiple times.
She won three Olympic medals, securing a bronze in singles and silver in doubles with Helena Sukova in Atlanta in 1996.
The pair had also won silver together at the 1988 Olympics and that same year were members of Czechoslovakia’s Fed Cup team which defeated the Soviet Union.
She remained a strong supporter of the Czech Republic’s Fed Cup teams, whose success in the past decade has matched the strong run of Czechoslovak teams in the 1980s.
“She always supported us from the stands when she could. We will miss her,” the Czech Fed Cup team said on their Facebook page on Monday.