The powerful left-handed tennis star, Martina Navratilova has retired from the professional circuit at the age of 49.
The Czechoslovakian player, who was born in 1956, had never been on a grass court before arriving at the pre-Wimbledon tournament at queens. She spoke at the time of her amazement that the grass was so short – she had expected it to be long like a football pitch! Despite this, she soon discovered that this was a surface ideally suited to her aggressive style and incredible level of fitness.
She won the singles title 9 times, and was the runner up 3 times. Over the course of her career at Wimbledon, she has played 279 matches, and established herself as a great favourite with the crowd in SW19.
In no small part this was due to the rivalry that existed between her and Chris Evert. The two players inspired each other to greater levels of fitness and expertise, which moved women’s tennis to a new speed and state of play. By the end of her singles career, another dramatic rivalry excited and entertained tennis fans – between Ms Navratilova and Steffi Graf.
Although she retired from the singles game in 1994, endearingly stooping to take a blade of grass from Centre Court with her as she left, she came back to the competition to play doubles, in a very successful career move that saw her win the championships on many other occasions, bringing her total Wimbledon wins up to 20!
“Wimbledon is like a drug,” the tennis star said. “Once you win it for the first time you feel you’ve just got to do it again and again”.
Fitting then that the tennis legend should end her career on the famous grass courts last week, when she and her partner Liezel Huber were defeated by the Chinese pair Zi Yan and Jie Zheng during the quarterfinals of the Ladies’ Doubles.
Ms Navratilova came out publicly in The Advocate in 1991, causing her to loose sponsorship deals. Lesbian news website afterEllen.com goes as far as to suggest that “her lesbianism was considered antithetical to the wholesome image women’s tennis was trying to portray.”
“Despite her clear mastery of the game, Martina was routinely snubbed by sponsors in favour of more feminine, graceful athletes”, the website claims.
Nevertheless, with over $20,344,061 in prize money alone, the possible reduction in her advertising cache certainly won’t have caused Ms Navratilova any financial hardship.
Tennis fans will be saddened that one of the women’s game’s greatest characters will no longer be trampling the grass at Wimbledon, but forever grateful for the entertainment provided by one of the competitions most memorable players.