Back in 1981, an 18-year-old gifted tennis player from Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia going by the name of Martina Navratilova created ripples for defecting from her home country and taking up US citizenship. She didn’t stop there and made the world marvel at her accomplishments for more than 30 years.
4 DECADES OF THE POWER GAME
Martina was not one of those young teenaged prodigies having won her first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1978 aged 22. In fact, she had won only three such titles by the age of 26. Still, she went on to win 18 Grand Slams singles titles where she became the first woman to win a singles slam in three different decades and the only one to win a Grand Slam in four different decades. The secret to her longevity was the great emphasis she put on the physical aspect, becoming the flagbearer of the power game in women’s tennis. She was the first to undergo cross-training and strength training exercises to supplement her game on the court.
She holds the record for the most titles on the WTA Tour, 167 in singles and 177 in doubles. 59 of those have been Grand Slam wins, 18 singles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed doubles. The only player ever to have held the number one ranking in both singles and doubles for more than 200 weeks, Martina is one of only three to have ever achieved a Boxed-Set Career Grand Slam – winning all Grand Slams in all three different formats of singles, doubles and mixed doubles. She won the Wimbledon title the most, 20 times (9 singles and 11 same sex + mixed doubles). She also won the season-ending WTA Tour Championships a record eight times and spent a total of 332 weeks as number one in singles and 237 in doubles. The very fact that she won seven times in each format of every Grand Slam makes her a very special and the most complete tennis player in last 50 years.
AGE NO BAR
Her muscular serve-and-volley game served her well throughout her career and she retired from the sport aged 37, during which she even reached the Wimbledon final! After being inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in the year 2000, Martina made a comeback mainly on the doubles circuit. She won again, partnering India’s Leander Paes to mixed doubles triumphs at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Just months shy of her 50th birthday, she won her final Grand Slam, joining compatriot Bob Bryan to win the US Open in 2006 becoming the oldest Grand Slam winner ever.
FIGHTING OFF CANCER
Martina was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and underwent surgery to remove the tumour. She also had to undergo radiation, becoming completely free of it later that year. She even tried climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania after that episode for charity, leading to her getting hospitalized for high altitude pulmonary edema. She has fought off all that and is in good shape for someone soon to become a senior citizen. She rolled back the years in an exhibition match in late 2015, teaming up with Paes to play against Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza in India.
A self-proclaimed ‘rebel’, Martina Navratilova will always be a true legend in any era.