Martina Navratilova - Early Life and Tennis Career

Early Life and Tennis Career

Navratilova was born Martina Šubertová in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her parents divorced when she was three, and in 1962 her mother Jana married Miroslav Navrátil, who became her first tennis coach. Martina then took the name of her stepfather (adding the feminine suffix "ová"), thus becoming Martina Navrátilová . Her father Mirek remarried and divorced. When she was eight, he committed suicide. In 2008, Navratilova's mother died of emphysema, aged 75. Navratilova has a sister, Jana, and an older paternal half-brother.

In 1972, at the age of 15, Navratilova won the Czechoslovakia national tennis championship. In 1973, aged 16, she made her debut on the United States Lawn Tennis Association professional tour but did not turn professional until 1975. She won her first professional singles title in Orlando, Florida in 1974, at the age of 17. Upon arriving in the United States, Navratilova first lived with former Vaudeville actress, Frances Dewey Wormser, and her husband, Morton Wormser, a tennis enthusiast.

Navratilova was the runner-up at two Grand Slam singles tournaments in 1975. She lost in the final of the Australian Open to Evonne Goolagong Cawley and in the final of the French Open to Chris Evert. After losing to Evert in the semifinals of that year's US Open, the 18-year-old Navratilova went to the offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in New York City and informed them that she wished to defect from Communist Czechoslovakia. Within a month, she received a green card.

Navratilova won her first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1978, where she defeated Evert in three sets in the final and captured the World No. 1 ranking for the first time. She successfully defended her Wimbledon title in 1979, again beating Evert in the final, and retained her World No. 1 ranking. In 1981, Navratilova won her third Grand Slam singles title by defeating Evert in the final of the Australian Open. Navratilova also reached the final of the US Open, where she lost a third set tiebreak to Tracy Austin. Navratilova won both Wimbledon and the French Open in 1982.

After adopting basketball player Nancy Lieberman's exercise plan and using graphite racquets, Navratilova became the most dominant player in women's tennis. After losing in the fourth round of the first Grand Slam event of 1983, the French Open, she captured the year's three remaining Grand Slam titles (the Australian Open was held in December at that time). Navratilova's loss at the French Open was her only singles defeat during that year, during which she established an 86–1 record. Her winning percentage was the best ever for a post-1968 professional tennis player. During 1982, 1983, and 1984, Navratilova lost a total of only six singles matches.

Navratilova won the 1984 French Open, thus holding all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. Her accomplishment was declared a "Grand Slam" by Philippe Chatrier, president of the International Tennis Federation. Many tennis observers, however, insisted that it was not a true Grand Slam because the titles had not been won in a single calendar year. Navratilova extended her Grand Slam singles tournament winning streak to a record-equalling six following wins at Wimbledon and the US Open. She entered the 1984 Australian Open with a chance of winning all four titles in the same year. In the semifinals, however, Helena Suková ended Navratilova's 74-match winning streak (a record for a professional) 1–6, 6–3, 7–5.

A left-hander, Navratilova won all four Grand Slam women's doubles titles in 1984, partnering right-handed Pam Shriver, a tall and talented player whose most noted stroke was a slice forehand, a shot virtually unheard of in the game today. This was part of a record 109-match winning streak that the pair achieved between 1983 and 1985. (Navratilova was ranked the World No. 1 doubles player for a period of over three years in the 1980s.) From 1985 through 1987, Navratilova reached the women's singles final at all 11 Grand Slam tournaments held during those three years, winning six of them. From 1982 through 1990, she reached the Wimbledon final nine consecutive times. She reached the US Open final five consecutive times from 1983 through 1987 and appeared in the French Open final five out of six years from 1982 through 1987.

17-year old German player Steffi Graf emerged on the scene in 1987 when she beat Navratilova in the final of the French Open. Navratilova defeated Graf in the 1987 Wimbledon and US Open finals (and at the US Open became only the third player in the open era to win the women's singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles at the same event). Graf's consistent play throughout 1987, however, allowed her to obtain the World No. 1 ranking before the end of the year. Graf eventually broke Navratilova's records of 156 consecutive weeks and 331 total weeks as the World No. 1 singles player but did not break Navratilova's record 167 singles titles, as Graf reached 107. In 1988, Graf won all four Grand Slam singles titles, beating Navratilova 5–7, 6–2, 6–1 in the Wimbledon final along the way.

In 1989, Graf and Navratilova met in the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open, with Graf winning both encounters in three sets. Despite the age difference between the two players, Navratilova won 9 of the 18 career singles matches with Graf and 5 of the 9 Grand Slam singles matches with her. At age 34, Navratilova defeated Graf the last time they played in a Grand Slam event in the semifinals of the 1991 US Open 7–6(2), 6–7(6), 6–4.

Navratilova's final Grand Slam singles triumph was in 1990. In the final, the 33-year old Navratilova swept Zina Garrison 6–4, 6–1 to claim a record-breaking ninth Wimbledon singles crown. Though that was her last Grand Slam singles title, Navratilova reached two additional Grand Slam singles finals during the remainder of career. In 1991, she lost in the US Open final to the new World No. 1 Monica Seles after defeating Graf in a semifinal. And then in 1994, at the age of 37, Navratilova reached the Wimbledon final, where she lost in three sets to Conchita Martínez. Soon after, she retired from full-time competition on the singles tour. She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.

In 2000, Navratilova returned to the tour to play doubles events, while rarely playing singles. In her first singles performance in eight years, at Eastbourne in 2002, she beat World No. 22 Tatiana Panova before losing in the next round to Daniela Hantuchová in three sets. In 2003, she won the mixed doubles titles at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon, partnering Leander Paes. This made her the oldest ever Grand Slam champion (aged 46 years, 8 months). The Australian Open victory made her the third player in history to complete a "boxed set" of Grand Slam titles by winning the singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles at all four Grand Slam events. The Wimbledon win allowed her to equal Billie Jean King's record of 20 Wimbledon titles (in singles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles combined) and extended her overall number of Grand Slam titles to 58 (second only to Margaret Court, who won 62). Despite being criticized for receiving a wildcard, Navratilova won a singles match in straight sets at the first round of Wimbledon in 2004, aged 47 years and eight months, to make her the oldest player to win a professional singles match in the open era. She then lost her second round match with Gisela Dulko in three sets.

On July 6, 2006, Navratilova played her last career match at Wimbledon, losing in the third round of mixed doubles to the eventual champions, Israel's Andy Ram and Russia's Vera Zvonareva. Earlier that day, Navratilova lost her women's doubles quarterfinal match against Chinese fourth seeds Yan Zi and Zheng Jie, also the eventual champions. Navratilova capped off her career by winning the mixed doubles title at the 2006 US Open with Bob Bryan, her 41st Grand Slam doubles title (31 in women's doubles and 10 in mixed doubles) and 177th overall. At the time, she was just over a month away from her 50th birthday.

Navratilova won 167 top-level singles titles (more than any other player in the open era) and 177 doubles titles. Her last title in women's doubles came on August 21, 2006, at the Tier I Rogers Cup in Montreal, Canada, where she partnered Nadia Petrova. Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles: nine at Wimbledon, four at the US Open, three at the Australian Open, and two at the French Open. Her overall record in 67 Grand Slam singles events was 306–49 .862 (120–14 at Wimbledon, 89–17 at the US Open, 51–11 at the French Open, and 46–7 at the Australian Open). She won at least one tour event for 21 consecutive years and won the singles and doubles at the same event a record 84 times. Her career singles match win total of 1,442 is the most during the open era.

In September 1992, the 35-year old Navratilova played Jimmy Connors in the third Battle of the Sexes tennis match at Caesars Palace in Paradise, Nevada. Connors was allowed only one serve per point and Navratilova was allowed to hit into half the doubles court. Connors won 7–5, 6–2.

She played for the Boston Lobsters in the World TeamTennis pro league through the 2009 season.

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