Two great players who landed the Wimbledon title at relatively late stages of their career, two players who were probably the best volleyers of their generation – its interesting how Amelie and Jana had such similar careers at Wimbledon; Jana in the 1990s and Amelie in the 2000s. I would like to delve deeper into this scenario. Lets look at Jana Novotna's Wimbledon career first.
On grass Jana was a lovely player to watch; wonderfully athletic and a very good volleyer, Jana’s game revolved around serve and volley on grass. Her serve was quite good and when confident Jana was very quick to get to net. On return of serve, Jana would always look for an opportunity to take the net, looking for the short ball to attack and not afraid to use the backhand slice to keep the ball low as often as possible in the rallies.
Jana got to three Wimbledon finals, taking her third opportunity in 1998 against Natalie Tauziat of France in straight sets. Before 1998 Jana had some heartbreaking moments, most notably the 1993 final against Steffi Graf when Jana was 4-1 in the third set and then lost confidence at the vital moment when the winning post looked tantalisingly close.
Jana took a lot of flak for that defeat and had to contend with the “choker” tag for the next five years. However, Jana did give the Wimbledon crowd some wonderful moments and great Tennis in matches leading up to the finals, so the potential was always there, it was just a question of realising it and taking her opportunities.
That was to come in the 1998 semi-final vs Martina Hingis. I believe Jana played one of the best matches of her career against Martina avenging her three-set loss in the final the previous year in 1997.
It was a tactical triumph, really surprising Hingis with strong ground strokes and also hit high quality topspin backhand passing shots when Martina approached the net. Jana really rushed Martina into errors throughout and came out a worthy winner, giving her confidence for the triumph against Tauziat in the final.
Amelie was one of the most naturally gifted grass court players of the 2000s, either male or female, her game was perfect for grass. Amelie’s game was more adapted to the surface, an all court player who would come to the net more on grass than other surfaces, in a way players like Ivanesivic, Sampras, and Becker did in the 1990s.
Amelie’s best moment came in 2006 coming from a set down to defeat Justine Henin in the final. However, Amelie came through some tough moments in previous years to get to that position.
Amelie’s trials and tribulations took place in the semi finals as opposed to the finals. In 2004, Amelie played a great semi final against Serena Williams which went all the way in the third set. In the end, luck didn’t quite go Amelie’s way.
Amelie then got to the semi final in 2005, this time against Lindsay Davenport. Amelie came out strong, playing great Tennis and taking the first set, but nerves seemed to get the better of her in the second set and Davenport took it and went a break up in the third set before bad light stopped play.
Amelie’s chance had gone and Lindsay finished the job the next day wining the required two games to take the semi-final. It was a very tough loss for Amelie and one wondered whether another opportunity would come; well in 2006 it did against Maria Sharapova.
In this particular semi final, Amelie again played great Tennis, taking the first set well. However, Amelie’s nerves got the better of her and Maria took the second set, but this time, Amelie was able to get herself together and believe more and took the third set well in the end—a great triumph surely giving her confidence for the final against Justine Henin.
And the final proved that Amelie was ready to seize her moment, despite losing the first set, played a strong game to take the next two sets. The interesting thing here was that Amelie was willing to stick to her game plan of serve and volley when down, which demonstrated a great belief in her own game.
This ultimately stopped Justine playing her best game, taking the net away from her, rushing her into passing shots, even forcing her to serve and volley more in the third set in an attempt to reclaim the initiative. That match was certainly a tactical triumph for Amelie. The best was saved for last when Amelie told Sue Barker in the trophy presentation “I don’t want to hear anyone talk about my nerves anymore!”
There you have it, two Wimbledon victories by two popular players who the British public loved to watch. It is also fair to say that Amelie may well be the last player to win the Wimbledon title serving and volleying, it may not happen again in our lifetime.
Before closing out, it’s interesting to look at other similarities Jana Novotna and Amelie Mauresmo share:
- Each player won the WTA Championships the year before landing a Grand Slam title; Jana Novotna beat Mary Pierce in the 1997 WTA final in three straight sets in Madison Square Garden (best of five sets back then). Amelie beat Mary Pierce (sorry Mary!) in a fabulous 3 set final in the 2005 WTA final in Los Angeles at the Staples Centre. That clearly gave both players confidence to go one step further.
- Each player had their best other Grand Slam result on rebound ace at the Australian Open. Jana getting to the final in 1991 losing to Monica Seles. Amelie losing the 1999 final to Martina Hingis and winning the 2006 Australian Open final beating Justine Henin
- Each player played with a one hand backhand, Amelie using the topspin backhand more and Jana using the slice more, but it allowed both players to mix up their rallies and keep their opponents off balance.
- They were extremely athletic, graceful and cat like on the court.