Interview with tennis legend Jana Novotna
Jana Novotna won 100 titles during her 14-year career. This month she returns to Eastbourne, where she won the singles tournament in 1998, to play in the Legends Exhibition Event which launches the AEGON International. She spoke to Jenny Mark-Bell
You won in Eastbourne in 1998 and then went on to win Wimbledon in the same year. Did success at Eastbourne set you up for Grand Slam victory? Yes, but I think what really helped me to get the confidence would be winning the 1997 Chase Championship at Madison Square Garden in New York, playing the best of five sets. In 1997 I had a really great indoor season and then I managed to win the championship in New York. Being in the finals at the Australian Open and Wimbledon and then finally winning was a really big boost of confidence. Then I went to Eastbourne, and I passed that test as well. After that I felt really strongly that I was going to do well at Wimbledon.
You won more than 100 titles in your career, including 12 Grand Slam doubles titles, four mixed doubles titles and the singles at Wimbledon. Is there any particular victory or match that sticks in your memory?I always treasure the first time that I beat Steffi Graf at the Australian Open, because at the time she was so dominant - she was winning her matches in 35, 40 minutes. So beating her at the time was very special as was getting to the Grand Slam final and being in the Australian Open finals for the first time. And, of course, coming back and winning at Eastbourne.
What is special about the tournament at Eastbourne?I am so excited that I have this opportunity to come back because it’s one of my favourite tournaments and I have only been back once since I retired. The Hendon family always made the competition very special to all the players and made us feel right at home. Despite the bad weather which we sometimes had, the conditions made it so challenging that playing at Wimbledon afterwards was a piece of cake!We used to love having a bit of a splurge in the Indian restaurants nearby. I also loved to play a little bit of soccer with the other players. At the time it was the football European championship or something like that and we were always so excited. All the girls formed teams: Holland, the Czech Republic…that was always a lot of fun. The coaches would be on the sidelines making sure we didn't get injured before Wimbledon! We always had such a great party too. The players would do little skits and imitate other players, we all got on so well.
Who was the greatest opponent you ever played?Steffi Graf and Monica Seles. They had very different styles but they were equally tough and competitive and just total perfectionists. Steffi made it difficult for her opponent because of her athletic ability, her way of just rushing through the matches and making you, her opponent, feel very uncomfortable. Then you had Monica Seles, who was playing double-handed from both sides which was quite unusual at that time. She just hit very hard, she had you on the run all the time. Two very different players but both were very challenging.
Who is your all-time favourite player?I would have to say that for me and I'm sure for many others it would be Martina Navratilova, because of her versatility. Not only did she win so many Grand Slams in singles – she won Wimbledon nine times – but she accomplished so many titles in doubles and mixed doubles. This made her very unique, and the best-ever to my mind.
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