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.

Wimbledon


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 in 1994, 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 novels.

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’s name.

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.

American passport


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 country.

With leaving her country behind, she also dropped the communist lifestyle. A Ferrari and a Rolls Royce replaced her Skoda.

Her rival


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”.

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