Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova was born October 18th, 1956 in Revnice, near Prague. She is considered one of the greatest female tennis players ever, winning a hoard of trophies and named female tennis player of the year in most sports publications for a good thirty year stint from 1965. In addition to her tremendous success as a sportswoman, she has done considerable work off court for all manner of causes.


Tennis Career Overview

Like many international tennis stars, Navratilova benefited from a family interest in the sport and was coached by her mother from an early age. By the time she was 16 she was national tennis champion and turned professional a year later. Her first professional title was the singles title in Orlando, Florida. Shortly after this she defected to the United States and became a US citizen in 1981.

For the next ten or so years, Martina dominated the women’s game winning all the major Grand Slam titles and even managing a record breaking 74 match winning streak. She overcame criticism from the press regarding her weight and undertook a strictly regimented training regime that allowed her to come out of retirement and win further titles well into her forties.

A prominent feature of Navratilova’s career was her relationship with Chris Evert. Their contests comprised one of the greatest rivalries in modern sporting history, driving both of them individually to the greatest heights. Evert famously said of Navratilova that she was “the greatest doubles player ever”, and it is notably unclear whether this was a reference to her skill as a doubles player or to the fact that Evert may see herself as having been a better singles player. Nevertheless, Evert knew a thing or two about Navratilova in doubles, with the two of them winning the ladies doubles at the French Open in 1975 and Wimbledon in 1976. However, the relationship became less amicable when Navratilova admitted to focusing on Evert as the enemy during training and channeling her apparent hatred for Evert into pushing herself further. The results for the spectators were certainly something though, with the 1978 Wimbledon final one of the closest fought battles in women’s tennis history, Navratilova narrowly winning after losing the first set.

Navratilova’s career trophies total an astonishing 329, which is 140 ahead of her nearest rival. She also collected a massive 167 singles titles. This comes alongside her work and achievements off the court, which were honoured by the BBC with the Overseas Personality Award in 1987. She also holds the all-time record for the most singles (167) and doubles (177) titles to be held for both sexes. Although Navratilova has been known to complain about prize money in the women’s side of the game, she herself did fairly well, accumulating no less than $21 million in prize money.


Accomplishments and Titles

Wimbledon

Martina Navratilova dominated the women’s game in the 1980s and won the ladies singles trophy on nine separate occasions, in addition to winning the doubles title ten times. Her accomplishments in the singles game outshone both Steffi Graf’s seven singles titles and her run of six successive titles eclipsed Billie Jean King’s winning streak that preceded Navratilova’s greatest years. King, who was also a close friend of Navratilova, did however win one more Wimbledon title in total, taking twenty compared to Navratilova’s nineteen.

In the mixed doubles, a less intense section of the championship that allowed for more elaborate plays and a little showboating, Navratilova enjoyed a run of successes with her partner Leander Peas. Both players valued each other off court and were close friends, with Paes saying of Navratilova “Sharing the court with her is a true dream. Her skills as an athlete are not one tenth the skills of her as a human being.” Navratilova won her final Wimbledon title in 1995 with Paes in the mixed doubles, 27 years after she first won a title in the competition.

Australian Open

Martina enjoyed great success in the Australian Open, winning the singles (1981, 1983 and 1985), doubles (every year from 1980 to 1989 apart from 1981 and 1986) and mixed doubles (2003). She was only the third woman in history to win all three titles at all four Grand Slam Championships (Wimbledon, Australian Open, French Open and American Open). Unsurprisingly, her mixed doubles success was shared with Paes. This success also made her the oldest woman in history to win a Grand Slam title (she was 46 years and 8 months old), a record that had stood since 1924.

French Open

Four years after her first grand slam title, Navratilova won the French Open in 1982. She lost the following year, this being the only match she lost in a year of 87 professional matches. In 1983 she did, however, hold all four trophies for all four grand slam tournaments, although many people claim she did not achieve a true grand slam of all four tournaments as she did not win them all in the same season. Beyond this, she only won the French Open on one more occasion (1984) although she was runner up for the following 3 years, losing to Chris Evert and Steffi Graf.

US Open

Navratilova won the singles (1983, 1984, 1986 and 1987), doubles (in the same years and also 1989 and 1990) and mixed doubles (1985, 1987 and 2006) and was only the third person in history to win all three titles at one event in 1987. The US Open was also the location for her final Grand Slam title in the 2006 mixed doubles with Bob Bryan.


Playing Style

Navraitlova was a left handed player who opted for a single handed backhand which allowed her to dominate games with a trademark serve and volley technique. Although she was not particularly tall in today’s standards, standing at 5’8”, she played an aggressive game, spending as much time at the net as possible. She was physically very strong in her upper body, but received criticism over her weight and stature. In response to some fairly unkind media attention she took up a strictly regimented training schedule with friend and fellow sportswoman Nancy Lieberman. Having retired she has begun to market the training programme as a brand called “Shape Your Self”, which includes a book of the same name and a range of fitness equipment.


Personal Life

Navratilova has been seen to show the same determination for causes close to her heart as she did on the tennis court. The charities which feature most heavily on her website are for lesbian and gay causes. She came out as a lesbian in 1981 shortly after receiving her green card, having feared that it may jeopardise her application. This was not an unreasonable assumption for somebody from a country where homosexuality was perceived as a mental illness, an opinion also shared by her father and cited in various publicised arguments regarding her personal life.

Her defection to the United States was a partly political decision. Not only would it allow her more freedom with regard to travel and so where she could compete, but it was also a statement against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Like many people from the former Eastern Bloc, she refuses to speak Russian despite being fluent, seeing it as a hangover of an illegal occupation by the USSR.

In 1992 she became actively involved in campaigning for gay rights, even to the extent that she filed a lawsuit against the American constitution in an attempt to prevent discrimination against homosexuals. Her work for the homosexual community was rewarded with a National Equity Award in 2000 from the Human Rights Campaign. In 2002 she and a friend launched the Rainbow Card, effectively a gay credit card providing a small contribution towards lesbian and gay charities whenever used.

In addition to her political activities, Martina is also an active vegetarian and is affiliated with PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). She has appeared in advertisements alongside the tulip wielding Smiths front man Morrissey. However, her recent admission that she ate fish whilst touring to boost her protein intake could find her under fire from the more extreme PETA members.