Leading 4-1, 40-30 in the final set for the Wimbledon title, Novotna’s second serve sails halfway to the baseline. Double fault. Deuce. Tension. Novotna pokes a sitter forehand volley way over the baseline. Ad-out. Jana’s legs imperceptibly heavier move back on a lob, her shoulder metamorphosing tightening up slowing down as it strikes the ball meekly into the bottom of the net. “It was no dream.” 4-1, 4-2, 4-3. Double fault. Double fault. Double fault. Audible groans in the cathedral of tennis. Difficult to watch, difficult to worship. 4-4. Move your feet. Do not overthink. Swing freely. 4-4, 4-5. Just go for your shots. Relax. Just get the ball in. A tentative backhand slice hits the tape. “Gregor’s numerous legs, which were pitifully thin compared to rest of his bulk, waved helpless before his eyes.” Jana cries on the Duchess’ shoulder. The cameras click. The writers write. The whole world reads what is written. “I love it,” Novotna would later say. “I think about it all the time.”
*Novotna finally won Wimbledon five years after losing this final.
The artwork here of Jana Novatna and the Duchess of Kent is by Stephen Gulbis. This work is part of “The Ace Heroes Series” commissioned by the Lawn Tennis Association. Steve studied Graphic Design at Bath Academy of Art. He has been a freelance illustrator since 1981, working in publishing & advertising, before writing and illustrating children’s picture books. Currently working as a sports illustrator, Steve lives with his wife in Dunbar, Scotland.
“Jana Novotna” first published with the National Men’s Senior Men’s Tennis Association.
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Previously published Tennis Writings.