RIP Jana Novotna

While the world revels in the long-overdue departure of that mass-murderous POC that I will not name on these pages, we get a sobering reminder of how life is not fair: 1998 Wimbledon champion Jana Novotna died at 49.

The story of her 1998 victory–her lone Major Championship in singles play–is itself an epic tale.

In 1993, Novotna–known more for her doubles play–was on the cusp of winning the Wimbledon Championship. Up 4-1 and serving at 40-30 in the 3rd set, she was only five points from victory.

She would double-fault, lose her serve, and then suffer the most epic meltdown in sports history.

The awards ceremony was hell to watch, as she cried on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent.

It would be four more years before she got another chance to win at Wimbledon. But once again, in 1997, she came up short.

Jana Novotna was 0-2 in Major championships. She was not known for her singles play to begin with. She was not supposed to be able to come back from two very nasty defeats.

No one, however, gave Jana Novotna that memo.

In 1998, five years after the most epic choke in sports history at the time, Jana Novotna won on Center Court, capturing the 1998 Wimbledon Championship.

Her road to the final was no picnic, either, as she had to beat Venus Williams–the older half of the most dominant sibling duo in the history of tennis–in the quarterfinal and Martina Hingis, who had beaten her in the 1997 final, in the semifinal.

In the final, Novotna prevailed over Nathalie Tauziat in straight sets, taking a tie-breaker for the championship.

Presenting her the trophy was none other than the Duchess of Kent.

While Jana Novotna would not go down as one of the all-time greats in the tennis world, she does stand out for one major accomplishment.

When you look at the worst meltdowns in sports history–from Greg Norman blowing a 6-stroke lead in the final round at the 1996 Masters, to the Houston Oilers blowing a 38-3 halftime lead against the Buffalo Bills, to the Atlanta Falcons’ gift to Tom Brady in this year’s Super Bowl–it is otherwise unheard of for teams and athletes to come back to avenge those defeats.

The only thing close would be the 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers, who blew a 2-0 lead against the Seattle Supersonics in the 1977 NBA Championships. Julius Erving would run commercials in the Philadelphia area, saying, “We owe you one!”

The Sixers would come close two more times: in 1979-80 and 1981-82, losing each time to the Los Angeles Lakers.

But the Sixers would finally deliver: after signing All-Star center Moses Malone, the Sixers would storm the NBA in 1982-83, going 65-17 and then dropping only one playoff game en route to a sweep of the Lakers in the finals.

But even that pales in comparison to Novotna–a doubles specialist–facing down the stigma of the worst choke in the history of tennis, avenging her defeat on Center Court at Wimbledon.

Novotna was 49.

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