Martina Navratilova: Three Decades Of Tennis Excellence, A Lifetime Of Standing Up And Speaking Out

International Blog – Michael Dickens


Michael Dickens

Martina Navratilova is a champion, a great American, and an immigrant. She’s also a winner.

Navratilova is part of a quintet of exceptional athletes featured in the American documentary film, “Winning,” which has earned much positive praise from critics and audiences at film festivals this year. It is currently available for viewing via Netflix and Apple iTunes.

During the film, Navratilova was asked, “What makes a winner?”

She responded in a matter-of-fact tone, saying, “It’s funny because people stop me and say, ‘Oh, you’re so competitive.’ And, I’m like what is the alternative, to give up, to not try hard or to just say I don’t care?”

During her brilliant career, Navratilova compiled a 43-37 win-loss record against Hall of Famer and fellow American Chris Evert, the player to whom she shared her biggest on-court rivalry. Early on in her own Hall of Fame career, Navratilova was not always warmly received when she and Evert faced each other. OK, I’ll admit, initially, I was more of a Chris Evert fan than a Martina Navratilova fan. However, over time, that changed as I began to appreciate what Navratilova brought to her sport – an attacking, serve-and-volley style – and the excellence, both on court and off, she achieved despite the odds. She would finish 14-8 in Grand Slams against Evert, including 10-4 in Grand Slam finals.

“When Chris Evert was introduced, everybody clapped. When I was introduced, people would whistle or boo, or some wouldn’t clap at all. Could you see Roger Federer coming on court and people not clap? It’s incomprehensible.”

Thank goodness, Navratilova never gave up believing in herself. She became the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player of her generation – and, arguably, of all time.

Navratilova once remarked, “The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are at their worst. Whoever said, ‘It’s not whether you win or lose that counts’ probably lost.”

Between 1975 and 2006, the former No. 1-ranked Navaratilova won 167 singles titles and 177 doubles titles, and also achieved a career Grand Slam in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. That’s three decades of tennis excellence. During her career, she developed many great on-court rivalries, with the likes of Evert, Evonne Goolagong and Steffi Graf.

“When I was 16, that’s when I started traveling and was able to play on the Tour. I wanted to measure myself against the best players,” recalled Navratilova in “Winning.” “My third tournament, I played against Evonne Goolagong, lost 6-3, 6-4. My fourth tournament, I played against Chris Evert, and I lost 7-6, 6-3. I thought, ‘OK, if I can play a close match like this the first time I play them, I know I am going to get better and, hopefully, beat them one day.’ It took me a couple of years before I beat Chris and Evonne for the first time, but I got there.”

Indeed, did she ever get there. Many times, her opponents simply shook their heads and gave props at her brilliance. Navratilova, who was the year-end singles No. 1 seven times in her career (1978-79, 1982-86), went on to win 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including nine Wimbledon crowns, 31 major women’s doubles titles (an all-time record), and 10 major mixed doubles titles. She owns the WTA record for best single-season winning percentage when she went 86-1 (.989) in 1983. In 1984, she set the WTA record for longest match winning streak with 74 consecutive wins.

As dominating as Navratilova was in singles, she was just as accomplished a doubles player. She and Pam Shriver formed one of the most successful partnerships in women’s doubles history. They won won 109 consecutive matches, including all four major titles, the doubles Grand Slam, in 1984. They established an all-time record of 79 titles together and tied the record set by Louise Brough Clapp and Margaret Osborne duPont of 20 major women’s doubles titles as a team.

Year after year, as she continued to exude brilliance on the tennis court, Navratilova pushed others to become stronger and more fit. Looking back, as she said in “Winning”: “The ball never comes over the net the same way twice. There’s always something different about it. So, I loved that challenge. I just really wanted to see how well can I play this sport.”

In 2006, Navratilova capped off her outstanding career when she teamed with fellow American Bob Bryan to win the 2006 U.S. Open mixed doubles title. At the time, Navratilova was a month shy of her 50th birthday and broke her own record as the oldest major champion (aged 49 years, 11 months).

In retirement, Navartilova has become one of the best tennis analysts on TV, appearing on the U.S.-based Tennis Channel’s coverage of the Grand Slams and other selected events – contributing commentary toward both women’s and men’s matches – as well as commenting on Wimbledon for the BBC. From the top of her game to the forefront on civil rights, Navratilova is unafraid to express her political beliefs. Her willingness to help expose social injustices shows an influence she has that extends well beyond the sports arena.

A native of the former Communist Czechoslovakia, Navratilova was just 18 years-old when she defected to the United States. She became a U.S. citizen five years later in 1981, the same year that she came out as a lesbian. Today, Navratilova exudes a patriotic immigrant sensibility. She’s active on social media with 248 thousand followers on Twitter. She’s also a breast cancer survivor.

Now, Navratilova, who is married (“with a great family”) and resides in Aspen, Colorado, is part of a lawsuit that is challenging the constitutionality of Colorado’s controversial Amendment 2, which curtails gay rights. She once told the Washington Post, “I believe that if you plug hard enough, things will happen. I just wish more people would do their little bit here or there because we could really make a difference.”

As I’ve learned, Navratilova, now 62, has been very willing to donate her time and money – and her fame – to various world-wide organizations, in support of gay rights, animal rights, and underprivileged children. She’s also always willing to play a tennis exhibition in support of a good cause. When Navratilova plays in legends exhibition doubles at the Grand Slams, she plays to win.

I wish there were more people thoughout the world like Martina Navratilova, who are willing to speak out whenever they see anything that’s not fair or just. After all, she’s a winner in every sense of the word.