Headmaster’s Blog 20/11/17

I am writing this blog just minutes after hearing of the passing of Jana Novotna at the age of 49. She has passed at far too young an age, and while I know nothing of the family and friends she has sadly left behind, she is always someone that I will personally have great memories of.

I come from a tennis family. In fact, now in his seventies, my father still plays, coaches and on occasion enters tournaments. Tennis is something that I grew up with. As a child I spent many, many hours playing and watching the game at Cardiff Lawn Tennis Club and it instilled in me a love of the sport. I am useless at it, but I certainly love to watch it, and it is my favourite spectator sport outside of welsh rugby and Liverpool football.

Although we are nearing the end of a great era in tennis history, the 1990s was, itself, a fantastic era. Greats players and personalities such as Sampras, Agassi, Ivanisevic, Becker, Graf, Hingis and Selles were at their peak and graced the surfaces and our television screens. While there was always the likelihood of these greats of the game winning multiple trophies, there was always the chance that an also ran might get their hands on a winner’s trophy. That is why we were so desperate for Henman in those four semi-finals!

This is where Novotna came into the mix. She was a superb player. Graced with a deft touch, power and physicality, and a natural athleticism, she was a brilliant serve/volley specialist. Her game was most suited to grass for its speed and the power required, but she never quite hit the highs that a Graf, Selles or a Hingis often did. She was good, but she wasn’t that good, and that is what made her great to watch. The will that she had to compete and to try and win was remarkable and although she was a quiet player, the grit and determination could be seen in every shot, lunge and chase that she made. News of her passing has picked up on her near miss in 1993 when she lost to Graf in a crushing final set. Her emotional breakdown into the arms of the Duchess of Kent revealed a vulnerability that set her apart from the players who often seemed like perfect machines. It was the humanity she showed that made her a great and brought her a legion of fans who respected her abilities, but more importantly, her sheer willingness to give her all to reach her dream.

Five years later in 1998, she did finally get her hands on the Venus Rosewater Dish. This was her only major victory and was not a case of third time lucky at Wimbledon. Like Ivanisevic who reached his dream three years later, it was her resilience, effort and capacity to face up to the obstacles in front of her that got her there. She may not have been one of the greatest tennis players to pick up the trophy, but her win was one of the most popular of all time.

So, thank you Jana Novotna and rest in peace. The story that will be told over the coming days should be an inspiration to all our children.