Former British number one Jo Durie paid tribute to Jana Novotna’s competitive streak following the Czech’s death from cancer.
Novotna, who won the 1998 Wimbledon singles title, lost her battle with the disease on Sunday aged 49.
She came to the attention of the wider public in 1993 when she featured in one of the most enduring images in the long history of Wimbledon as she was famously consoled by the Duchess of Kent after losing the 1993 final to Steffi Graf, having led the final set 4-1.
The Duchess of Kent comforts Jana Novotna as she presents her with the runner up trophy on centre court at Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Adam Butler/PA
She was known for her battling qualities, though, and overcame another final defeat in 1997, this time to Martina Hingis, to finally get her hands on the trophy in 1998, beating Frenchwoman Nathalie Tauziat.
Durie, who expressed her shock at Novotna’s death, said her SW19 success showcased her fighting spirit.
“I am shocked, as many other people are, because I really didn’t know she was so ill,” she told Press Association Sport. “It’s very sad.
“She was a lovely person, quite quiet and quite private. She was knowledgeable about the game and friendly, she had a good sense of humour.
“On court, she could be a very fierce competitor, she really was so tough. She was a wonderful player, she was so good on faster courts, she would serve and volley and chip and charge and she was great around the net.
“I think everyone had a tear in their eye when she didn’t win that first final against Steffi. We have all been in that situation where you nearly win but you can’t quite do it and your opponent gets the better of you.
“It was horrible to watch, but what nerve to actually win it five years later, and I think all of us in the tennis world were joyful and glad that she did it.
“That took some courage to get through that match after everything she had been through at Wimbledon. She was so happy afterwards and it was great to see.
“The crowd love a story like that and she came across so well.”
Jana Novotna with the gold plate after winning the Ladies Final match against Nathalie Tauziat at Wimbledon. Photo: Neil Munns/PA
That ended up being her only grand slam title in singles, though she was prolific in the doubles, winning 12 grand slams in the women’s doubles and ticking off the full set of Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open and the US Open. She also won mixed doubles titles at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
Novotna also represented her country with success, claiming silver medals at the 1988 and 1996 Olympics as well as a bronze in Atlanta.
She was the world number one ranked player in doubles in 1990 and got as high as number two in the singles in 1997.
Her countrywoman Martina Navratilova described her friend as an “amazing woman”.
She posted on Twitter: “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…”
Novotna was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005 and WTA chief executive Steve Simon says that her legacy is set in stone.
He said: “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. Our condolences and our thoughts are with Jana’s family.”
Wimbledon posted on Twitter: “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.”
Chris Evert tweeted: “A sad loss to the tennis world, but a devastating loss to those of us who shared a deep friendship with her…a woman with integrity and honor. RIP Jana.”