Martina Navratilova Has Plenty to Say


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Martina Navratilova sat at a dockside restaurant in Florida this spring, sporting worn-out denims, a denim button-down shirt that hung loosely at her waist and a 1619 cap that certainly one of her 5 canine had gnawed on. It’s her favourite hat lately.

Athletic tape wrapped a thumb and forefinger, not to buffer a tennis racket, however to cowl a pores and skin situation that causes discoloration. She has not performed shortly — the pandemic, aching joints, the standard excuses.

A girl about Navratilova’s age, which is 64, mentioned a star-struck “hello” on her method out of the restaurant. But a younger waitress had no thought she had served a tuna salad platter with a facet of asparagus to somebody who, 4 many years in the past, was working to change into the mannequin for the fashionable, socially conscious athlete.

During Navratilova’s heyday within the 1980s, the world didn’t have a lot urge for food for an outspoken, overtly homosexual lady whose romantic companions sat courtside whereas she dominated her sport as nobody else had — profitable 18 Grand Slam singles titles and 59 in all, the final coming in 2006, when she was 49.

Nowadays, that mixture of success and fearlessness can make you an icon. Witness the empathy in current days for Naomi Osaka, the four-time Grand Slam match winner who withdrew from the French Open, citing considerations for her psychological health, after match organizers threatened to disqualify her if she didn’t seem at news conferences.

Navratilova — an enthusiastic supporter of Osaka and a vocal champion of causes together with local weather change and animal welfare — might merely have been born too quickly. After paving the way in which for the fashionable athlete, Navratilova nonetheless has lots to say, and the world appears extra keen to pay attention now, although not everybody agrees along with her.

She confronted vehement backlash from L.G.B.T.Q. advocates when she argued within the Sunday Times of London in assist of guidelines for transgender feminine athletes competing in opposition to different girls, and was dropped from the advisory board of Athlete Ally, a gaggle centered on supporting L.G.B.T.Q. athletes. And nonetheless, Navratilova needs Twitter and Instagram had been round again in her taking part in days, penalties be damned.

As a baby in Prague, Navratilova learn the newspaper day by day. She studied the atlas, imagining the place life might take her.
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She believes now that residing out loud helped flip her into the best participant on the planet. Defecting from Czechoslovakia at 18 saved her soul, she mentioned, and residing as an overtly homosexual celebrity athlete set her free.

She has no scarcity of ideas and opinions, normally expressed on social media, even when the following day she is offering professional evaluation on The Tennis Channel from the French Open.

“I lived behind the Iron Curtain,” she mentioned, her eyes nonetheless able to the glare that terrified opponents on the court docket. “You really think you are going to be able to tell me to keep my mouth shut?”

Whatever the political and social tradition is buzzing on, Navratilova desires a chunk of the motion. She tosses Twitter grenades from the left, caring little about collateral, and generally self-inflicted, injury. There was this on the Republican Party final month. Do not get her began on vaccine conspiracy theories. And she couldn’t resist weighing on the Liz Cheney fracas.

Do individuals change over time or simply change into extra like themselves? Navratilova — who lives in Miami along with her spouse, the Russian mannequin Julia Lemigova, their two daughters, five Belgian Malinois dogs, turtles and a cat — actually has not modified a lot because the world has.

As a newly arrived immigrant, Navratilova was referred to as “a walking delegate for conspicuous consumption” by The New York Times in 1975. The article elaborated:

She wears a raccoon coat over $30 denims and a floral shirt from Giorgio’s, the Hollywood boutique. She wears 4 rings and diverse different jewellery, together with a gold necklace with a diamond insert formed within the determine 1. The traditional standing image footwear and purse spherical out the wardrobe. She owns a $20,000 Mercedes-Benz 450SL sports activities coupe.

She was labeled a whiner and a crybaby (by Nora Ephron, no less) and a hazard to her sport, as a result of she was so a lot better than everybody else.

After Navratilova criticized the federal government of her adopted nation, Connie Chung urged throughout a CNN interview that she return to Czechoslovakia.

“She was always opinionated, and always principled,” mentioned Pam Shriver, Navratilova’s shut pal and longtime doubles associate. “It would have been so great for her and her fans not to have her voice filtered.”

Mary Carillo, the previous participant and tennis commentator, remembers being subsequent to Navratilova within the locker room as a youngster on the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills and noticing sculpted arms “with raised veins and sinewy muscle barely holding them all together.”

“She was smart and quick and funny and emotional, with a game so strong and assertive that it seemed like fans automatically felt the need to cheer for the woman across the net,” Carillo mentioned. “Like Martina’s game wasn’t … what? Feminine? Fair? That drove me nuts.”

Name the qualities that permit knowledgeable athlete to transcend the game. Publicly difficult authority? Being an overtly homosexual celebrity? Transforming how individuals play and prepare for his or her sport? Navratilova checked every field.

She was a Wimbledon quarterfinalist in the summertime of 1975, when her nation’s Communist authorities was deciding whether or not to permit her to take part within the United States Open in New York later that 12 months. She hated being unable to communicate her thoughts, or inform anybody of her sexual attraction to girls.

When she obtained permission to depart for the match, she instructed her father, who was additionally her coach, that she wouldn’t be coming again. She didn’t inform her mom.

After a semifinal loss to Chris Evert, she headed to a Manhattan immigration workplace to request asylum. Three hours later, she was free. By the time she awakened the following morning on the Roosevelt Hotel, the story of her defection was in The Washington Post.

Navratilova saved her sexuality non-public for six extra years, as a result of it might need disqualified her from changing into a U.S. citizen. After she was naturalized, a sports activities reporter tracked her down following an exhibition match in Monte Carlo and instructed her he deliberate to write about an off-the-record dialog they’d had about her being a lesbian.

She urged him not to. She mentioned she had been instructed it could be unhealthy for girls’s tennis. The tour was managing a current controversy with Billie Jean King, who had been sued for palimony by a former girlfriend. King at first denied the affair, then acknowledged it throughout a news convention along with her husband at her facet.

The reporter rejected Navratilova’s request, and after years of silence, she discovered herself shoved from the closet. From that second on, although, Navratilova appeared with girlfriends and went about her life as she had at all times longed to.

“I didn’t have to worry anymore,” she mentioned. “I didn’t have to censor myself.”

That September, Navratilova misplaced a third-set tiebreaker to Tracy Austin within the U.S. Open ultimate and cried through the awards presentation. The crowd roared for Navratilova that day, however hardly ever afterward, whilst she gained the following three Grand Slam singles titles, after which 13 extra after that. Along the way in which, Navratilova basically modified not solely the way in which individuals performed the game, but in addition the way in which tennis gamers — women and men — went about their business.

Don’t consider it? Take a have a look at the physiques of male tennis gamers earlier than Navratilova grew to become Navratilova.

That evolution started within the spring of 1981, when Navratilova was on the Virginia Beach dwelling of the basketball star Nancy Lieberman. She referred to as Navratilova lazy and mentioned she might prepare a lot more durable.

Cross-training was barely an idea then, however quickly Navratilova was taking part in an hour of one-on-one basketball with Lieberman a number of occasions per week. She performed tennis for up to 4 hours a day, started weight coaching with a feminine bodybuilder and sprinted day by day at a neighborhood observe.

A nutritionist put Navratilova on a food regimen excessive in complicated carbohydrates and low in fatty proteins. Her physique went from borderline lumpy to sculpted.

With the assistance of Renée Richards, a brand new coach who performed skilled tennis within the 1970s after present process transition surgical procedure Navratilova discovered a topspin backhand and a crushing forehand volley. Her game, powered by her deadly left-handed serve, grew to become about aggression, about attacking the opponent from all over the place on the court docket.

In 1983, Navratilova performed 87 matches and misplaced solely as soon as. In three Grand Slam finals, she misplaced zero units and simply 15 video games.

Soon Evert began cross-training, and the following technology of stars regarded much more like Navratilova. They adopted her fierce type on the court docket.

Tennis careers typically ended round age 30 again then. Navratilova gained the Wimbledon singles title at 34 in 1990 and continued to win doubles championships till 2006, changing into a groundbreaker in longevity.

She has little doubt that her dominance on the court docket and her stridency off it labored hand in glove. “It lifts the pressure off you,” she mentioned. “It’s like having a near-death experience. Once you go through it, you embrace life.”

The social and political commentary, and the requisite blowback, would are available in time, beginning virtually by chance.

In 1991, when Magic Johnson introduced he had been identified with the virus that causes AIDS, saying he was contaminated by way of intercourse with girls, Navratilova was requested for her ideas. She questioned why homosexual individuals with AIDS didn’t obtain related sympathy, including that if a girl caught the illness from being with tons of of males, “they’d call her a whore and a slut, and the corporations would drop her like a lead balloon.”

Imagine dropping that in your Twitter feed.

In 1992, she campaigned in opposition to a Colorado poll measure that will have outlawed any laws within the state that prohibited discrimination based mostly on sexual orientation. She mentioned President Bill Clinton had wimped out together with his “don’t ask, don’t tell” coverage for gays within the army. She demanded equal pay for girls and bashed tennis dad and mom who behaved badly.

The pushback reached crucial mass in 2002 when a German newspaper quoted her saying coverage choices in America give attention to cash as an alternative of “how much health, morals or the environment suffer.”

When Chung took her to job on CNN, Navratilova shot again, “When I see something that I don’t like, I’m going to speak out because you can do that here.”

Now her eyes gentle up when she discusses Coco Gauff, the 17-year-old budding tennis star who spoke forcefully at a Black Lives Matter rally close to her Florida dwelling final 12 months after the homicide of George Floyd. And when she thinks of Osaka — who wore a masks naming a Black sufferer of racial violence earlier than every of her matches on the U.S. Open final 12 months — Navratilova is for certain the masks, and talking out, helped Osaka win the championship. A protest doesn’t take vitality away from you, Navratilova defined, it does the other.

She by no means is aware of the place the blowback will come from, and is aware of that it gained’t at all times be from the fitting. She will proceed to write and tweet about her perception that elite transgender feminine athletes ought to have transition surgical procedure earlier than being allowed to compete in girls’s occasions.

“It can’t just be you declare your identity and that’s it,” she mentioned. She feels equally about intersex athletes who establish as girls.

The Black Lives Matter sticker on her automobile garners the occasional heckle. Navratilova mentioned somebody just lately noticed {a photograph} of her within the 1619 cap, then introduced he was pulling out of a tennis camp the place she was scheduled to seem.

That is okay, she mentioned. She will maintain sporting the cap.





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