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Martina Navratilova Biography

Behind The Iron Curtain, Prominence, Rivalry With Evert, Chronology, Speaks Out For GaysSELECTED WRITINGS BY 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 Europeans—and the only grown-up left in the tennis crib. Can't she ever get it right?"


(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.

Sketch by Paul Burton

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTennis