Jana Novotna: A Champion
Jana Novotna will probably be remembered more for her excruciating losses than her triumph at Wimbledon in 1998. Nevertheless, her beautiful tennis made her a champion.
I can’t remember exactly what year it was. Jana Novotna lost two Wimbledon finals in 1993 and 1997, before finally lifting the trophy at SW19 at her third attempt. I think it was the year 1997, while the incredible match that the Czech lost to Steffi Graf in 1993 was still vivid in my memory and Jana’s eyes still had traces of those tears that were shed during the trophy presentation. I had never placed a bet on a tennis match before – I was still a kid at the time – but that day I walked into a betting center, asked the staff about how to play, took a banknote out of my pocket and chose a name: Jana Novotna. Champion.
This unusual event occurred in May during the ongoing French Open. Somehow, I decided to place a bet on the Wimbledon tournament that would begin in a month or so. I can’t exactly recall what kind of premonition inspired me to choose Novotna. As I left for a beach vacation on the Italian coast at the beginning of July, I completely forgot about the little receipt that was given to me at the betting center and was buried in my wallet among other slips and post-it notes. In the meantime, Novotna was winning match after match on the Wimbledon grass: I remember following the tournament through the chronicles of the legendary Italian journalist Gianni Clerici on the newspaper that my Dad would religiously buy every day. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t have many other options to follow the tournament: I was on the coast with my parents, TV was very limited and so was technology.
We came back home the day of the ladies’ final. I desperately searched through my wallet and found the receipt that contained my prophecy: Jana Novotna, Wimbledon champion, 10,000 Italian lire – today’s equivalent of 5 euro – which could have been multiplied by 12 times if Novotna had won the final. I only played on grass once and thought that nobody could deal with the low bounces of Novotna’s majestic slice backhand.
Instead, Martina Hingis perfectly managed to deal with them and – shot after shot – prevented the Czech from lifting the trophy. Jana Novotna wasn’t a killer on the court, she was simply a tennis player that would accept the win when things managed to go her way. That is the reason why I was such a big supporter of her delightful tennis. After the tears of the 1993 final, I was hoping that Jana could somehow redeem herself with a sweet revenge – or shall I say justice – in 1997. My prediction eventually came true a year later, when Novotna finally lifted her one and only Wimbledon trophy.
I had no idea that Jana Novotna was suffering from a terrible illness. Had I been aware of her situation, I would have still placed a bet on her as the champion. No revenge this time, only justice with a well-deserved happy ending. Unfortunately, the end of Jana’s story proved to be so absurdly ungrateful that my heart is left with sadness and sorrow.
By Agostino Nigro
(Article translation provided by T&L Global – Translation & Language Solutions – www.t-lglobal.com )