Recently the tennis world was shaken by the return of Martina Navratilova. At the age of 43 the tennis legend returned to the Roland Garros Grand Slam tournament in May.
It was a comeback after six years of silence. In her career she won a record number of 167 tournaments in singles and two less in doubles. She played over 1,650 professional matches, peaking between 1982 and 1984. She played 260 matches in that period, only losing 6 of them! Women’s tennis was completely dominated by the Czechoslovakian player at the time. She topped the rankings for 322 weeks in a row. Another remarkable achievement: she won eighteen Grand Slam singles titles.
Her favourite tournament was Wimbledon
. She triumphed an amazing nine times on the English grass
courts. On her way there she also picked up ten doubles titles at Wimbledon. After losing the Wimbledon final to Conchita Martinez
, and then the first round in a New York City Masters
tournament to Gabriela Sabatini
, she said goodbye
to singles tennis. “My body could play on, but my heart is too tired. It’s a schizophrenic
moment”, she said.
Safari and ice hockey
She occasionally played doubles after that but most of her time she spent in Africa
to observe animal life
. She also got a pilot license
, even played a full ice hockey
competition in American winter sports resort Aspen
and wrote three mystery novel
The early years: Communist symbol
As a top tennis player, in the early years Martina Navratilova was a political symbol
in her native country Czechoslovakia. She was born near Prague
in a small village called Revnice
on October 18, 1956
. She carried the name Martina Suberova
, but after her father died she took her stepfather Mirek Navratil
In those days Czechoslovakian citizens needed permission from the authorities to travel, but the government was pleased to help her since the young tennis player would be a sparkling communist symbol against the capitalists of the West. Besides, she earned money for her country. Of every 100 dollars Navratilova earned, she had to give 89 to the state.
So it came that already at the age of 19
Navratilova decided to request political asylum
in the United States
. She had had some problems with the Czechoslovakian tennis federation
in the months before. During Roland Garros in 1975
Martina decided to stay over in another hotel
than the rest of the Czechoslovakian players. The federation wanted to punish
her by not letting her go to the US Open
, but former Wimbledon champion Jan Kodes
managed to get permission
for her. The New York tournament would be her last as Czechoslovakian citizen. She was cursed
in her native country for years after that. Both her name and photos were erased from record books
throughout the then-Eastern Bloc
With leaving her country behind, she also dropped the communist lifestyle. A Ferrari and a Rolls Royce replaced her Skoda.
Western tennis lovers did not embrace
her immediately. Chris Evert
, her number one rival, was the perfect representation of an American woman
and won all popularity contests. On the court
‘though, Navratilova was more often the stronger of the two. The record of the import
American against Chris Evert eventually was 43-37.
Love for women
Yet Navratilova’s private life
was popular with the press because of her relationship with a woman
. The Czechoslovakian American temporarily dominated the sports magazines when she and Judy Nelson
split up and Navratilova had to pay her over a million dollars. "In the newspapers, the money Martina had to pay to Judy Nelson was labeled palimony", liveforever blab!bed.
Welcome near the end
Martina was named by ESPN
as one of the 20 Greatest Athletes of the Century
, one of only two women on that list. In the fall of her career, Navratilova finally was hugely welcomed by the public, especially at Wimbledon, but also in other major tournaments around the world. Last May in Paris
she received a exceptionally warm reception
by the audience
, but that was not what Navratilova had come for: “I love tennis most when I win”.