Navratilova, Martina

views updated May 29 2018

Martina Navratilova


Czech tennis player

Martina Navratilova won 56 Grand Slam tennis championships, including 18 in women's singles and a record nine at Wimbledon. Her rivalry with Chris Evert helped popularize women's tennis. But Navratilova, who defected from Czechoslovakia in the mid-1970s, was just as influential off the court as an icon for female and gay athletes. In 1999, the cable network ESPN placed her 19th on its list of the top athletes of the 20th century, one of only two females in its top 20.

It took years for the public, who perceived Navratilova as physically imposing and cold, to embrace her. But she retired from active singles play amid a tearfully appreciative crowd at New York's Madison Square Garden in November, 1994. By then, she was a first-name-only celebrity. "I think people thought of her as a villain because physically she was so strong," Evert said on ESPN Classic 's Sports Century series. "There's Chrissy and Tracy Austin and Evonne Goolagong and then along comes Martina, who's working out and there's veins popping out of her arms and who's really strong. And people were taken back. They were intimidated by this. But she's a kitten."

Navratilova, it seemed, was always against the grain. "How gratifying it must have been for her to have achieved so much, triumphed so magnificently," wrote Frank Deford, author and longtime Sports Illustrated writer. "Yet always to have been the other, the odd one, alone: lefthander in a right-handed universe, gay in a straight world; defector, immigrant; the [last?] gallant volleyer among those duplicate baseline bytes. When she came into the game, she was the European among Americans; she leaves as the American among Europeansand the only grown-up left in the tennis crib. Can't she ever get it right?"

Behind the Iron Curtain

She was born in Prague as Martina Subertova. Her father killed himself when she was very young, and when her mother remarried, to Marislav Navratil, Martina took her stepfather's name, adding the feminine suffix "ova." She was capable in many sports, including

hockey and skiing. Growing up in the suburb of Revnice, and competing against boys was no big deal. "I'm not very psychologically oriented and I have no idea how I was affected by my real father's abandonment, the secrets and the suicide, or my feeling about being a misfit, a skinny little tomboy with short hair," she wrote in her autobiography, Martina. "In Czechoslovakia, nobody ever put me down for running around with boys, playing ice hockey and soccer."

She began playing tennis at age six, on the slow clay courts of Czechoslovakia. She won the Czech national championship at age 15. "Navratilova eschewed the polite, baseline-anchored woman's game," Larry Schwartz for the web site. "With a wicked serve, a rush to the net and a ferocious volley, she was a full-court drama, complete with emotional outbursts." She turned pro in 1973, at age 16, and for her first two professional years, experienced a taste of life outside the Iron Curtain. "For the first time in my life I was able to see America without the filter of a Communist education, Communist propaganda. And it felt right," she wrote in her autobiography.

She drew on her clay-court experience by defeating clay specialist Nancy Richey at the 1973 French Open and, though unseeded, she reached the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Later that year she lost to Evert in an indoor match in Akron, Ohio, the first of 80 matches against Evert.

After Czech sports federation authorities tried to limit her travel in 1975, feeling she was becoming too Americanized, Navratilova decided to defect. After losing to Evert in the semifinals in the 1975 U.S. Open at Forest Hills, New York, Navratilova visited the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Manhattan and got her green card. She became a U.S. citizen in 1981 and for years, the Czech media refused to print or broadcast the results of her matches. (She returned to her homeland in 1986, amid media hype, and embarrassed the Czech government by leading the U.S. Federation Cup team to victory).

But Navratilova gained weight in the late 1970s, unable to control her liking for American fast food. Her game suffered when she ballooned to 167 pounds; tennis writer Bud Collins labeled her "the Great Wide Hope." She eventually got her diet under control and undertook a training regiment that included weightlifting, running sprints and studying all aspects of tennis. She also became one of the first athletes to use a personal trainer and one of the first female tennis players to work heavily on muscle tone.

Prominence, Rivalry with Evert

Navratilova won her first Grand Slam event in 1978, at Wimbledon, the first of nine titles at Centre Court. Still overweight, she overcame Evert 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. Her final one, in 1990, broke the record of eight held by Helen Wills . "Navratilova made extreme fitness her trademark in chasing and overcoming Evert, who became her good friend," Collins wrote in Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis. Navratilova overcame a 21-4 deficit in matches against Evert to end up 43-37 against her rival. She also eclipsed Evert's record of 157 consecutive pro singles tournament victories. No. 158 came against Jana Novotna, against two match points.


1956Born October 18 in Prague, Czechoslovakia
1973First visited United States
1975Defected to United States during U.S. Open.
1981Became U.S. citizen; goes public about lesbian, bisexual lifestyle
1986Returned to Czechoslovakia as member of winning U.S. Federation Cup team
1990Retired from active singles play in November

Navratilova won Wimbledon six straight years, from 1982-87. In other Grand Slams, she took four U.S. Opens, three Australian Opens and two French Opens. It took 11 tries for Navratilova to take the U.S. Open. She finally did so in 1983, beating Evert. The closest she came to a single-season Grand Slam came in 1983 and 1984. She went 86-1 throughout 1983, falling only to Kathy Horvath in the fourth round of the French Open. In 1984, Helena Sukova beat her in the final Grand Slam, the Australian.

Navratilova's rivalry with Chris Evert became a matter of legend among tennis afficionados. "If you tried to make the perfect rivalry we were it," Navratilova said in a 1998 Washington Post interview about the Evert matches. "Most of the time, one of us was number one in the world, the other one was number two." Off court, however the two maintained a cordial relationship. Navratilova, in fact, introduced Evert to former Olympic skier Andy Mill, who married Evert in 1988. The two tennis greats even played as doubles partners for a while, but the competition to be No. 1 in singles got to be too much.

Since 1973, Navratilova has played in the most singles tournament (380) and matches (1,650), won the most titles (167) and sporting a won-loss record of 1,438-212. Her prize money, $20.3 million, ranks her only behind men's players Ivan Lendl and Pete Sampras . "Her doubles feats, attesting to a grandeur of completeness, were as sparkling," Collins wrote. She won 31 women's doubles and seven mixed doubles titles.

Navratilova's landmark 1990 Wimbledon win, over Zina Garrison in the final, was her last Grand Slam victory. She was runner-up to Monica Seles at the U.S. Open in 1991 and to Conchita Martinez at Wimbledon in 1994, her final year. She did return to Wimbledon in 1995 to capture the mixed doubles title with Jonathan Stark.

Her singles finale came at the season-ending WTA Championships in New York; she dropped her only match, 6-4, 6-2 to Gabriela Sabatini . "Thousands cheered and wept saying goodbye and thanks for the memories," Collins wrote. "She had done so much in New York, winning that prime championship eight times in singles (five times runner-up), 10 times in doubles, plus four singles and 11 doubles titles across the East River at the U.S. Open." Her last singles final came in the previous tournament, in Oakland, when she dropped a lengthy, three-set match to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario .

Speaks Out for Gays

When reports of her sexual orientation surfaced in the media, she did little to hide her homosexuality. "I never thought there was anything strange about being gay," she said in her autobiography. "Even when I thought about it, I never panicked and thought, 'Oh, I'm strange, I'm weird, what do I do now?'" Her more publicized lesbian relationships involved author Rita Mae Brown and former women's basketball standout Nancy Lieberman. Though Navratilova's public declaration probably cost her millions in endorsement dollars, others praised her for her forthrightness. She remains active today with charities that help gay rights, disadvantaged children and animal rights.

Unhappy About Game Today

Navratilova attempted a singles comeback that month at the Eastbourne grasscourt championships, an annual Wimbledon tuneup. Playing at age 45 in her first tour singles match in eight years, she defeated Tatiana Panova to become the oldest woman to win a WTA match. In the next round she lost to 19-year-old Daniela Hantuchovaboth matches went the full three sets. Navratilova also competed in doubles at the January, 2003 Australian Open with Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia. They reached the third round before losing to the Williams sisters, 6-2, 6-3 in a match that lasted barely over an hour. In a sign of changing times in women's tennis, Navratilova, once the prototype of the power game, whom Newark Star-Ledger writer Brad Parks four months earlier said had "arms that could shame most high school football players," found herself overwhelmed.

Awards and Accomplishments

1977-79WTA Tour Doubles Team of the Year (1977 with Betty Stove, 1978-79 with Billie Jean King)
1978-79Wimbledon champion
1981Australian Open champion
1981-89WTA Tour Doubles Team of the Year with Pam Shriver
1982French Open champion
1982-84Women's Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year
1982-87Wins six straight Wimbledon championships
1983U.S. Open and Australian champion
1983Associated Press Female Athlete of the year
1984French Open and U.S. Open champion
1985Australian Open champion
1986U.S. Open champion
1987U.S. Open champion
1987Women's Sports Foundation Flo Hyman Award
1989Named female athlete of the decade by National Sports Review, Associated Press and United Press International
1990Wins ninth Wimbledon singles championship, breaking Helen Wills Moody's record
1996WTA's David Gray Award for contributions to tennis
1999Ranked No. 19 in ESPN Sports Century's Top 50 athletes
2000Inducted into Hall of Fame.

Martina Navratilova: Class of 2000

Oakland was her last tour stop prior to (Madison Square) Garden in 1994, and Martina's last final on her own. She lost narrowly and gamely to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario despite leading 4-1 in the second, and serving for it at 5-3 in the third. "It would have been nice to have said goodbye to the tour with a win," she sighed.

Source: Collins, Bud. Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis, reprinted by International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Many in the media, meanwhile, long for the days of the Martina-Chrissie rivalry. While Navratilova vs. Evert involved a study of so many contrasts, the sister duels of today's Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, is an all-in the-family affair. "Tennis stadiums fill with groans now, whenever the Williams sisters engage in their methodical marches through opposite ends of Grand Slam tournament brackets," Mike Vaccaro write in the Newark Star-Ledger while covering the 2002 U.S. Open. "This

is why fans feel so numb, and why they instantly throw their support around anyone with a different surname.

"You'll never hear Venus say of Serena, 'I'll follow that sonofagun to the ends of the earth,' the way Jimmy Connors once vowed to hunt down Bjorn Borg ," Vaccaro added. "You will surely never see the ice-cold contempt that used to cleave John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl, or even the sweet cold wars that Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert used to wage regularly."

Navratilova Legacy

"Nobody, ever, has had such a glittering trove of numbers," Collins wrote. Yet Navratilova was about far more than just numbers. "Through all her transformations-of body, hair, clothes, glasses, nationalities, coaches, loversthe one thing, ever the same, ever distinct, is her voice, which is pitched to shatter a champagne flute," Deford said. "It brought forth sounds of decency and forthrightness, leavened with wit and compassion. Tennis was very blessed to have such a voice for so long, for these times."

Navratilova, who still competes in Grand Slam doubles, drew a crowd of admirers at the 2002 U.S. Open in New York, many of whom referred to her as "Granny." "I don't think 45 is an age," she said. "It's just a number."

Saying that no rule says "grannies" can't win tennis matches, Navratilova then added, "You know, people have been putting limitations on me for a long time. First I was too young, then I was too old. It was a very short period of time that I was just right You can't go based on what anyone else says. If I did that, I would never have left Czechoslovakia and you would have never heard of me."


(With Mary Cirillo) Tennis My Way. New York: Penguin, 1984.

(With George Vescey) Martina. New York: Knopf, 1985.

(With Liz Nickles) The Total Zone. New York: Villard, 1994.

(With Liz Nickles) Breaking Point. New York: Villard, 1996.

(With Liz Nickles) Killer Instinct: A Jordan Myles Mystery. New York: Villard, 1997.



Collins, Bud and Zander Hollander, eds. Bud Collins' Modern Encyclopedia of Tennis. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 1994.

Elstein, Rick and Mary Cirillo Bowden. Rick Elstein's Tennis Kinetics with Martina Navratilova. With an introduction by Martina Navratilova. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.


Knight, Athelia. "Chrissie vs. Martina, Cont'd: Greatest Rivalry in Women's History Now on Legends Tour." Washington Post (May 21, 1998).

"Navratilova Sees Singles Return End." Los Angeles Times (June 20, 2002).

Parks, Brad. "Ageless Navratilova Has Foes Doubled Up." Star-Ledger (September 1, 2002): 14.

Vaccaro, Mike. "This Is No Sizzling Rivalry It's a Boring Sister Act." Star-Ledger (September 8, 2002): 6.


Gale Group., (January 18, 2003).

"Martina Navratilova: 2000 Enshrinee." International Tennis Hall of Fame., (January 17, 2003).

"Martina Was Alone at the Top." ESPN Classic., (January 13, 2003).

"Serena Suits Herself.",, (January 16, 2003).

"Sports Illustrated Feeling Heat from Steamy Kournikova Cover.",, (June 5, 2000).

"Starstruck: Martina Navratilova.",, (January 18, 2003).

"Tennis Notes: Williams Sisters Too Much." Toronto Star,, (January 19, 2003).

"Thousands March in Washington for Gay Rights.",, (April 30, 2000).

Women's Sports Legends Online,, (January 14, 2003).

Sketch by Paul Burton

Martina Navratilova

views updated Jun 08 2018

Martina Navratilova

Martina Navrotilova (born 1956) was ranked number one in female tennis. She has won 17 grand slam titles and broken the record for total victories.

The clouds gathered, the sky darkened, and the summer rain fell on the grass, center court in the suburbs of London, England. This was early in the summer of 1988, late in the fortnight at Wimbledon, the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. In progress: the championship match of the women's competition between Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf. Navratilova, 31, was the defending champion. A native of Czechoslovakia who is now an American citizen, she was seeking her seventh straight English crown and ninth there in the past 11 years. On the other side of the net was Graf, 19, a West German who had lost the previous year's title match to Navratilova but seemed on her way to her first victory here.

When the rains came, each woman had won one set of the best-of-three finale. Navratilova had won the first, 7-5, but Graf had rebounded with an impressive 6-2 victory in the second set and had taken a 3-1 lead in the third. At one point, Graf had won nine straight games and had broken Navratilova's service five straight times. To borrow a cliche from another individualist sport, boxing, Graf had Navratilova on the ropes. "No one had treated Navratilova so rudely in years," wrote Paul Attner of the Sporting News. Would Navratilova, queen of this court through most of the 1980s, use the unplanned rest to gather her strength, adjust her strategy, prepare a dramatic comeback, and keep her title? With time on her hands, would Graf dwell on the enormity of her opportunity, lose her momentum, and squander what seemed in reach?

Perhaps it would happen in dreams, in fairy tales, or in movie scripts, but not on the lawn at Wimbledon in 1988. "In truth," wrote Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated," it was a reign stoppage." When they returned to the court, Graf quickly won the next three games to take the final set, 6-1, and leave with the silver plate that is presented to the champion by the Duchess of Kent. "It wound up being a sad scene for [Navratilova]," Graf said, "but a special one for me." Admitted Navratilova: "I got blown out. This is definitely the end of a chapter…. Pass the torch, I guess."

Although the defeat at Wimbledon meant the end of a chapter, it certainly didn't close the book on the career of Navratilova, one of the world's most successful, colorful, and controversial athletes of her generation. Top female players in the past have excelled well into their late thirties, and Navratilova intends to join that list. "Retirement is still a ways off," Navratilova wrote in her autobiography, Martina, co-authored by George Vecsey, in 1985. "People say I can play until I'm forty, and I don't see any reason why I can't…. Robert Haas used to claim that with all the work I was doing on myself, I could be winning Wimbledon at the age of forty. People scoffed, but that's really not unreasonable when you look at Billie Jean King, who reached the 1982 and 1983 semifinals at Wimbledon at age thirty-nine and forty. Barring an injury or lack of motivation, I can see myself doing it."

Certainly, she always has shown determination, motivation, and a-willingness to shape her future for herself. Even if she hadn't been a tennis champion, Navratilova would have been an unusual and interesting person for at least two reasons. First, she is a political defector from Czechoslovakia, a communist country of the Soviet Eastern Bloc, who was outspoken about her desire to become a citizen of the United States; and second, she says she is a bisexual and has often discussed the sometimes taboo subject of lesbian love in interviews and in her autobiography.

Even in terms of tennis, she has been unique in that she has shown more willingness than others of her generation to seek technical, physical, and emotional coaching from other persons inside and outside her sport. While Navratilova isn't the first to do such things, some experts feel her dedication to coaching and training has influenced the approach of other tennis players for the next generation. "I'm not saying she's the first to do it," said Mary Carillo, a former player who is now a television commentator, in an interview for Newsmakers." Margaret Court did it and Billie Jean King did it. But when Martina did it, everybody followed her lead. A lot of players now go to sports psychologists. Martina soared so far beyond everybody else, the only thing to do was to follow her lead. She did more than dominate the early 1980s. She set a whole new standard. She changed her diet and her fitness status. She made it scientific. She made it specific."

Navratilova was born on October 18, 1956, in Prague, Czechoslovakia and was raised in the suburb of Revnice by her mother and her stepfather. (Her real father committed suicide after the divorce.) As a lean, small child, Navratilova excelled in many sports, including hockey and skiing. She often competed against boys. "I'm not very psychologically oriented and I have no idea how I was affected by my real father's abandonment, the secrets and the suicide, or my feeling about being a misfit, a skinny little tomboy with short hair," she wrote in her autobiography. "In Czechoslovakia, nobody ever put me down for running around with boys, playing ice hockey and soccer. From what I've been told, people in the States used to think that if girls were good at sports, their sexuality would be affected."

As a teenager, Navratilova's tennis skills allowed her to tour foreign countries, including the United States. She felt stifled in Czechoslovakia and defected at the U.S. Open in 1975, shortly before her 19th birthday. At the time, she said it was strictly a matter of tennis. "Politics had nothing to do with my decision," she said in an Associated Press story. "It was strictly a tennis matter." In Prague, a reporter told her grandfather, who was quoted as replying, "Oh, the little idiot, why did she do that?" The defection was prompted in part, she said, by an incident early in 1975 when she was playing in a tournament at Amelia Island off the coast of Florida. She received a telegram from the officials of the Czech Sports Federation demanding that she return home. "I was in the middle of the tournament," she said. "I had to call upon the U.S. Tennis Association to help get me permission to play. That was when I really decided that I should leave Czechoslovakia."

Life in a capitalist country brought wealth-and problems. "I didn't do it for the money, but it's nice to have," she told the Detroit Free Press more than two years after the defection. She began to buy cars and houses, often owning several of each at the same time. She maintains a home in Fort Worth, Tex., and a townhouse in Aspen, Colo. Among the problems were loneliness and a fondness for the fattening foods sold in fast-food restaurants in the United States. "I miss my family badly," she told Bud Collins of the New York Times Magazine. " I worried for awhile that there would be retaliation against them, but there wasn't much." Her weight grew to 167 pounds shortly after her defection. She is five feet, seven and one-half inches tall. A decade later, after undergoing her physical conditioning program, she was 145 pounds of lean muscle.

Her physique stood in contrast to that of many American female athletes of the past who tried to maintain the-unlikely combination of round, soft, "feminine" curves and the athletic ability that comes with muscle tone and conditioning. Her appearance and personal behavior quickly led to public discussions of her sexual preference. "I never thought there was anything strange about being gay," she wrote in her book. "Even when I thought about it, I never panicked and thought, Oh, I'm strange, I'm weird, what do I do now?"

The book details many of Navratilova's relationships and living arrangements with women and how some soured and ended in bitterness. She tells of her professional relationship with Renee Richards, a female tennis player and coach who at one time was a man but had undergone a sex-change operation. Another one of her professional aides was Nancy Lieberman, a basketball player who Navratilova used for training and motivational purposes. At times, her many coaches and associates didn't get along. "Things got worse at Wimbledon when Renee was not invited to a surprise birthday party for Nancy, planned by some friends of Nancy's," Navratilova wrote in her book. "Renee thought it was Nancy's idea, but that was ridiculous. I knew the party was being planned, but I had other things on my mind." Navratilova's break-up with girlfriend Judy Nelson sparked considerable media attention when Nelson sued for half of Navratilova's earnings. A settlement was eventually reached between the two women.

The political side of her life story came to the fore in the summer of 1986, when she returned for the first time to Czechoslovakia. As an American citizen, she represented the United States in the Federation Cup in Prague. The return was a major media event as soon as she stepped off the plane. "Lights. Shouts. Rudeness. Pushing. Shoving," wrote Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated." How Kafka must have chuckled in his nearby grave as Navratilova beat a retreat." As she played well and won, she became a favorite of the fans, if not of Czech tennis officials. "Everyday the lady from Revnice was winning more hearts," Deford wrote. "Young men dashed on the court to give her roses. The crowds began to acclaim her, and she grew more responsive—first waving shyly, then giving the thumbs-up sign and, last, blowing kisses. Why, it almost seemed as if the Statue of Liberty had gone on tour, turning in her torch for a Yonex racket. Czech officials grew so enraged that on Friday they ordered the umpire not to introduce Navratilova by name. She became 'On my left the woman player from the United States."'

Although her personal life is interesting, there are other persons who are defectors from Czechoslovakia and others who overcame obesity and others who are bisexual. What makes Navratilova a famous person is her ability to play tennis consistently with the best in the world. She holds the racket in her left hand and plays aggressively. "The pattern of attack is a vital factor in Martina's supremacy," Shirley Brasher wrote in Weekend Magazine of Canada." She gives her opponents no time to find their own rhythm, no time to play at a safe speed. Instead, she rushes them and pushes them around the court, hitting out for the lines and blanketing the next with her reach, power and speed."

As the years went by and her victory totals grew, Navratilova became a favorite subject of sports writers who watched her grow from an emotional teenager to a more self-assured adult. "She has evolved in the eyes of many," John Ed Bradley wrote in the Washington Post," into a strong-armed automaton with a mean top spin forehand … and a tough, insensitive attitude that has wiped clean the memory of her emotional loss to Tracy Austin in the 1981 U.S. Open. Has the world forgotten that she wept violently at center court after dropping the third-set tie breaker?" As her career peaked, late in 1986, Peter Alfano wrote in the New York Times: " For the fifth consecutive year, Ms. Navratilova will finish as the No. 1 player in the world in the computer rankings. Her hold is so strong that a rare defeat is celebrated like a holiday on the tour, her victorious opponent treated like a conquering hero. Then come the whispers: Is Martina slowing down?"

Two years later, the whispers were common conversation. Her computer ranking fell to No. 2 and held there for 1988. Going into competition in 1988, she had won 17 Grand Slam titles. (A Grand Slam event is one of the four major tournaments: Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the French Open and the Australian Open.) Only three women had won more: Margaret Court (26), Helen Wills Moody (19), and Chris Evert (18). Prior to 1988, Navratilova had won at least one Grand Slam singles title in seven consecutive years. But the year 1988 was difficult for her with no Grand Slam titles. After being upset by Zina Garrison in the U.S. Open in suburban New York, Navratilova said, "If this year were a fish, I would throw it back."

Navratilova continued to play singles tennis despite constant retirement rumors. In 1992 she won her one hundred and fifty-eighth professional tennis title. With this win, Navratilova broke the record for more tennis titles than any other man or woman. Playing with Jonathan Stark, the pair won the mixed doubles title at Wimbledon in 1995. A second attempt at a mixed doubles title at Wimbledon was squelched by a loss to Lindsay Davenport and Grant Connell in 1996. Reporters continue to ask Navratilova what her plans are and if she will return for another match. Her answer remains that she does not know when she will retire from the professional tennis tour.

Navratilova has devoted some of her time off of the tennis court to writing. Her autobiography Martina chronicles her life from growing up in the former Czechoslovakia to her defection to the United States and subsequent rise to greatness and reveals much about trials and triumphs she has experienced along the way. Her mystery novels The Total Zone and Breaking Point were released in 1994 and 1996

Further Reading

Associated Press, September 8, 1975.

Boston Globe, November 5, 1988.

Chicago Tribune, November 16, 1987.

Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 1986; September 8, 1986; September 9, 1986.

Detroit Free Press, February 19, 1975; August 12, 1985; July 6, 1986; June 28, 1987; July 5, 1987.

Los Angeles Times, September 15, 1985; September 22, 1985; July 27, 1986; August 25, 1986; September 7, 1986; September 8, 1986; November 24, 1986.

New York Times, December 7, 1975; August 25, 1986; September 8, 1986; September 10, 1986.

New York Times Magazine, June 19, 1977.

Orlando Sentinel, April 25, 1985.

People, September 22, 1986.

Sport, March, 1976.

Sporting News, July 11, 1988.

Sports Illustrated, February 24, 1975; April 4, 1983; September 19, 1983; May 26, 1986; August 4, 1986; September 12, 1986; July 11, 1988.

Tennis, December, 1974.

Time, July 11, 1983; July 16, 1984.

Washington Post, January 9, 1985; September 8, 1986.

Weekend Magazine of Canada, June, 1979.

Women's Sports, August, 1985.

Women's Sports Fitness, November, 1986.

World Tennis, May, 1975; March, 1983; October, 1983; December, 1983; May, 1985. □

Navratilova, Martina

views updated May 29 2018


(b. 18 October 1956 in Prague, Czechoslovakia), world-class tennis player who was number one in the world through most of the 1980s and whose devotion to physical fitness revolutionized the sport.

Navratilova was born Martina Subertova. Her mother, Jana, was a national tennis star in Czechoslovakia. Her father, Mirek, worked on the ski patrol in the Krkonoše Mountains and taught Navratilova to ski as soon as she could walk. In 1959 the couple divorced, and Navratilova went to live with her grandmother in a one-room apartment in Revnice. (Her father committed suicide some time after the divorce, when Navratilova was a teenager.) Navratilova's family had once lived an upper-middle-class lifestyle but now possessed little except a prized red-clay tennis court where young Navratilova learned to play tennis.

In 1961 Navratilova's mother married Mirek Navratil. (In Czechoslovakia women take the feminized form of a man's surname.) Mirek was the first to notice his step-daughter's talent. While he was playing on the family's court one day, he heard the girl, age six at the time, hitting a ball against the wall. He recognized a promising force and consistency in her hitting and became her first coach.

Navratilova played her first tournament at age eight, where she won match after match. Mirek quickly realized the extent of her talent and took her to the Czech Tennis Federation, where George Parma was coach.

Parma, who would become a huge influence in Navratilova's life, taught her to play aggressively. Most women tennis players at this time played a baseline game. But Navratilova learned the serve and volley format, rushing the net at every opportunity. She hit the ball harder than most women did; her serve would eventually be clocked at ninety-five miles per hour. Under Parma's guidance she rose quickly in the Czech Federation.

The Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968 changed the lives of many Czechs. Parma became one of the 120,000 Czech defectors. In 1969, coachless, Navratilova went to West Germany to play, where she "beat the West Germans like a drum." What really got her attention, though, was seeing the life that existed beyond the Iron Curtain.

In 1969 she captured the national fourteen-and-under title. In 1971, at age fifteen, she was placed on the premier national tennis team at the Sparta Club. Life at "Camp Sparta," as Navratilova called it, alleviated her loneliness. In 1973 she won the Czech National Championship, her first adult title, which recognized her as the best female tennis player in the nation—a status that she would maintain throughout 1974 and 1975.

During the winter months of 1973, Navratilova was granted permission to play in the United States. She arrived in Florida, chaperone in tow, to play eight tournaments. Navratilova immediately caught everyone's attention with her aggressive style and fierce strokes. But American fast food caused her to gain twenty pounds in six weeks, which appalled her self-conscious fellow athletes. Her handlers worried that she was embracing American excesses and capitalism. Amid all the speculation, Navratilova made it to the quarterfinals of the French Open.

Navratilova returned to the United States in 1974 and was reunited with her old coach George Parma, who connected her with an exiled Czech community. She found homes and friends in all the U.S. cities she played in. But the Czech Federation continued to exercise control over her life. That same year, she met Fred Barman, a movie agent whose daughter was also competing on the tennis circuit. Barman negotiated with the Czech Federation and got her an 80/20 split for all tournament winnings and endorsement deals, with Navratilova getting the 80 percent.

In 1974, while in Czechoslovakia, Navratilova decided to defect. Her reasons were not wholly political or professional. Navratilova realized that she could not imagine living as a lesbian in the Soviet bloc. Still, she wavered. But the Czech Federation made the decision for her when it hassled her regarding her travel plans.

Fred Barman helped Navratilova apply for political asylum while she was competing in the U.S. Open in 1974. She made it to the semifinals that year. Her application was approved in 1975 and she arrived for good on the professional women's tennis circuit.

Players such as Billie Jean King had pushed to increase the visibility of women's professional tennis. By 1975 there were a number of women's tennis tournaments. And the media played up the rivalry between Navratilova, an outsider, and U.S. favorite Chris Evert. Navratilova won a record nine Wimbledon singles titles, four U.S. Open singles titles, and dozens of others. She also excelled in doubles. By 1978 she was number one in the world and would dominate women's tennis until 1986, trading the number one spot with Evert ten times. During the 1970s and 1980s, at the height of her career, she had lengthy relationships with the author Rita Mae Brown and then with Judy Nelson, a socialite from Fort Worth, Texas, where Navratilova lived. The latter relationship ended badly, with Nelson suing Navratilova for financial support.

One of the reasons Navratilova stayed on top as long as she did was her dedication to physical training. Starting in 1981, the year she became a U.S. citizen, she put together what she called "Team Navratilova." Her team included a trainer, coach, and nutritionist. She practiced for hours each day, ran two to four miles, and worked out in a gym. She became stronger and was one of the fastest women on the court. After Navratilova, raw talent would no longer be enough to carry young players. Her training program became a standard in both men's and women's tennis in the 1990s.

Navratilova accumulated more titles than any other women playing professional tennis. While she officially retired in 1994, she still plays doubles at the major events. Since her retirement, she has become increasingly outspoken on the issue of gay rights. She has also written mystery novels, including The Total Zone (1994) and Breaking Point (1996).

Navratilova dominated professional tennis with her athleticism and unsurpassed serve and volley style, and she revolutionized the game with her devotion to physical fitness.

Navratilova cowrote two books: an autobiography, Martina (1985), and Tennis My Way (1983). Also see Gilda Zwerman, Martina Navratilova (1995).

Richard A. Greenwald

Navratilova, Martina

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NAVRATILOVA, Martina (b. 18 October 1956), tennis player, activist.

Martina Navratilova was born in Prague, Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovakia), where her grandmother was a member of the Czech national tennis team and her parents were administrators for Czech tennis. Thus, it was no surprise when young Navratilova excelled at tennis. At the age of eight, she entered her first tournament, and by sixteen, she was the number one ranked player in Czechoslovakia. After competing in the United States, Navratilova realized that she would never achieve her full potential as a tennis player in communist Czechoslovakia. In 1975 she defected to the United States. This daunting decision by the eighteen-year-old Navratilova led to her rise in fame within the tennis world and paved the way for her future political activities; nonetheless, it also meant she could not return to Czechoslovakia nor see her family for many years. On 21 July 1981 Navratilova took the oath of American citizenship.

Early in her career, it was evident that Navratilova was different from other tennis players, particularly the U.S. women. She was more muscular than was considered socially acceptable and had a more powerful style of play. Although initially suspect, Navratilova's training techniques eventually transformed women's tennis as other women began strength training to remain competitive. Navratilova also became the first openly lesbian professional athlete, which very likely cost her millions of dollars in endorsements. During her career, she amassed an incredible record, winning 170 career singles matches, 9 Wimbledon singles titles, 19 total Wimbledon championships (including doubles matches), a streak of 74 matches in 1984, and the Grand Slam (the U.S., Australian, and French Open events and Wimbledon) in 1987. Navratilova's professional tennis career earnings surpassed $20 million. She was named the Female Athlete of the Decade (in the 1980s) by the National Sports Review and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

Though initially outed as a lesbian by the press, Navratilova ultimately became a champion of LGBT rights and frankly challenged sexism and heterosexism. She confronted the press about their portrayal of basketball legend Magic Johnson as a hero when he admitted that he contracted HIV through countless heterosexual contacts. Navratilova asserted that an HIV-positive woman admitting to similar sexual escapades would be labeled immoral and lose her corporate sponsorships. Navratilova also publicly responded to homophobic comments within the tennis community, such as Margaret Court's 1990 proclamation that lesbians were bad role models and Jelena Dokic's father Damir's 2002 statement that he would commit suicide if his daughter was a lesbian. In both cases, Navratilova expressed indignation and condemned the homophobic nature of such comments.

In one of her most visible political actions, in 1992 Navratilova avidly campaigned against Colorado's Amendment 2, which outlawed antidiscrimination ordinances protecting LGB people. Although voters in that state approved the amendment, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Navratilova filed a lawsuit challenging the initiative. In 1996 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ordinance was unconstitutional.

Navratilova's involvement in LGBT culture included participation at historic and significant gatherings. As a keynote speaker at the 1993 March on Washington, the first major LGBT event in which she participated, Navratilova emphasized the importance of being open about one's sexual orientation. This event inspired Navratilova's vision for the Visa "Rainbow Card," which

raises funds for LGBT nonprofit causes, such as civil rights issues and HIV/AIDS and breast cancer research. In its first year, the Rainbow Card raised $50,000, and by 2002 it had accumulated over $1.5 million for LGBT causes. Additionally, Navratilova welcomed participants during the opening ceremonies at the 1998 Gay Games in Amsterdam and was a keynote speaker at the Millennium March. For the first time in her storied career—twenty years after first achieving the number one world ranking—she finally became a spokesperson for a major company when she appeared in a national advertising campaign for Subaru. She was the first out lesbian athlete to appear in such a campaign.

Navratilova works for many local causes in Colorado, her home since 1989. She regularly raises funds for women's support centers, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, and female political candidates. She has also been a visible supporter of the environment and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Navratilova conducts workshops for the top-ranked children in tennis as well as for children from Denver's inner-city parks program. As of 2003, she has come out of retirement to compete in doubles, becoming the oldest person to win a Women's Tennis Association title. She has also written several mystery novels set in the tennis world, is a commentator for major tennis tournaments, and continues her LGBT activism.


Allen, Louise. The Lesbian Idol: Martina, kd, and the Consumption of Lesbian Masculinity. Washington, D.C.: Cassell, 1997.

Blue, Adrianne. Martina: The Lives and Times of Martina Navratilova. Secaucus, N.J.: Carol Publishing Group, 1995.

Silvas, Sharon. "Martina! Serving On and Off the Court." Colorado Woman News 2, no. 18 (June 30, 1992): 17.

Spencer, Nancy E. "'America's Sweetheart' and 'Czech-mate.' A Discursive Analysis of the Evert-Navratilova Rivalry." Journal of Sport & Social Issues 27 (2003): 18–37.

Vikki Krane

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Navratilova, Martina

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Navratilova, Martina (1956– ) US tennis player, b. Czechoslovakia. She dominated women's tennis during the 1980s. She won a total of 55 Grand Slam events, second only to Margaret Court. She won nine Wimbledon singles titles (1978–79, 1982–87, 1990). Other singles titles include the US Open (1983–84, 1986–87), French Open (1982, 1984), and Australian Open (1981, 1983, 1985). She became a US citizen in 1981, and retired in 1994.

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