Think of famous female tennis players and Martina Navratilova is sure to spring to mind. This Czech-born star dominated the tennis scene during the 70s and 80s but still continues to be an inspiration to many today.
Born in Prague in 1956, Martina began playing tennis at the age of four. With her grandmother already a successful tennis player, and her stepfather a tennis coach, Martina was given a good grounding in the sport.
By the age of nine, left-handed player Martina was receiving lessons from tennis champ George Parma, paving the way for her to win the Czech national championship at the tender age of 15. Just a year later, Martina had turned professional.
Martina quickly realised that coming from Czechoslovakia would hold her back from competing in tennis competitions at a professional level, and so she moved to the USA and applied for American citizenship.
Success came quickly for the young Martina, as she bagged her first Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament win at the age of 22. She retained her Wimbledon title the year after and then won the Australian Open Grand Slam title in 1981. The wins kept on coming for Martina – from 1982 to 1984, she only lost six major matches.
Martina’s professional tennis career endured for over four decades, during which time she amassed an impressive 59 Grand Slam titles; 18 of these were singles titles, 31 women’s doubles and 10 mixed doubles.
Martina was a Wimbledon singles finalist a staggering 12 times, winning nine of these, six of which were consecutive. To add to her accomplishments, she was just one of three women to achieve every senior Grand Slam win, known as the Grand Slam Boxed Set.
She also gained the most singles and doubles titles in the Open Era and was a world number one record holder for both singles and doubles for more than 200 weeks – a title that she still retains to this day.
Although Martina retired in 1994 from singles tennis, she continued to play in doubles matches. Her last major win occurred in 2006 at the US Open, shortly before her 50th birthday. Even then she was breaking records, becoming the oldest player to win a Grand Slam title.
With such an impressive bounty of professional wins, Martina has gained huge respect and positive acclaim.
Tennis magazine rated her the greatest female player from 1965-2005, while many tennis experts regard her as one of the greatest players of all time. She has also won player and athlete of the year and has been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Martina continues to remain in the public eye even though she’s no longer winning major tennis titles. She has written several books and appeared on shows such as Dancing with the Stars and I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!
The former tennis pro has also been the American Association for Retired Persons fitness ambassador and is an ambassador for the WTA. Martina also regularly commentates for sports channels and the BBC. She currently has plans to open a tennis academy in her native Czech Republic.
She is an active promoter of issues that are close to her heart, including gay rights and animal rights.
Despite suffering setbacks through ill health, including breast cancer, toxoplasmosis and pulmonary oedema, Martina continues to inspire to this day and remains one of our greatest female tennis icons of all time.