'I'll see you in court, Martina!' Ms Navratilova is sued by former 'wife' Toni Layton for half a million dollars
By David Leigh and Natalie Clarke
Last updated at 1:06 AM on 20th June 2009
There are, as the song goes, 50 ways to leave your lover. You can let them down gently, tell them 'it's me, not you', provoke a bust-up or simply ignore them and hope they'll take the hint.
Few of us, however, conduct the dispatching of a no-longer-loved one with quite such brutal efficiency as Martina Navratilova demonstrated when she decided that Toni Layton's time was up.
The day it happened, Toni had a terrible sense that something was wrong. She picked Martina up from the airport in Florida - she had been to Australia on a business venture - and noticed that Marti, as she called her, kept her sunglasses on.
The bitter end: Toni Layton has filed a 'domestic partnership lawsuit' against Navratilova, claiming she endured 'emotional, mental and physical trauma'
The barriers were up. Martina told Toni she wished to be taken to her office, next door to their house. When they arrived, Martina paced the room briefly before delivering her speech: 'This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do,' she said. 'This is about you.'
In that moment, Toni knew it was over.
'She started raising her voice,' says Toni, 'then said: "I was worth $15 million when I met you, now I'm only worth $10m. You are responsible for this mess." I got up and said: "Marti, what are you talking about? You're worth a hell of a lot more than $15million. What's all this about?"
'Then I suddenly got it. I said: "I get it, this is my exit. I get what's happening here."
'It was all totally unexpected. 'I tried to walk out the door, but Marti stopped me by grabbing my arms and shoved me against the wall. She said lawyers had drawn papers up and I had to sign them.'
Toni pulled free and tried to walk out. Then two security guards appeared from nowhere at the same time as a car screeched to a halt outside the house and two lawyers got out.
One of them, says Toni, pushed a document in her face, a 'settlement' of $10,000, saying: 'You'd better sign it because it's all you're going to get.' She refused.
Minutes later, the locks to the house next door had been changed. Martina was inside the house; Toni was out on the street - and erased from Martina Navratilova's life.
This dramatic scene took place in January last year and Toni and Martina have not exchanged a word with each other since. But there has been correspondence between their lawyers.
On Monday - with exquisite timing, the opening day of Wimbledon - Toni, who was Martina's lover for eight years, will file a 'domestic partnership' lawsuit seeking an undisclosed sum in compensation for the 'emotional, mental and physical trauma' she suffered as a result of that confrontation outside the couple's house on Florida's Gold Coast.
She cannot claim a 'divorce' settlement, because the state of Florida does not recognise same-sex relationships.
Now a tennis commentator who works frequently for the BBC, Martina found a new audience last year when she made an unexpectedly positive impression on I'm A Celebrity. . . Get Me Out Of Here!. She is enjoying the revival of her profile and will not welcome the publicity that is bound to arise from the lawsuit.
The Tennis Wife
'For all those years, I was a "tennis wife" and devoted my life to being Marti's best friend, lover and business adviser,' says 56-year-old Toni, who is staying with a friend in New York.
'I put my life on hold to support her. Then, without any warning, my whole life came crashing down. I was thrown out, left homeless, penniless and with only the clothes on my back.
'Marti decided I was no longer to be a part of her life and got rid of me. It was as cold and as calculated as that.
'It's sad to say, but I'm sure people would be astonished if they knew only a fraction of what the real Martina Navratilova is like, or what she is capable of.'
Today, speaking publicly for the first time, Toni casts a fascinating light on the character of the tennis champion, openly lesbian from the outset, who won a record nine Wimbledon singles titles.
There were many facets to Martina's personality, Toni says. She could be kind and romantic, but also cold and - as evidenced by that final showdown - utterly ruthless.
She is a legend in the tennis world yet she continues to this day to be jealous, says Toni, of her arch rival, Chris Evert.
Martina, says Toni, was what you might call a 'ladies' woman'. She always liked looking at beautiful women, she had a roving eye. I just stupidly thought I was "the one''.'
The pair first met in 1991 at the Peachtree City Tennis Centre in Atlanta, Georgia. Toni was there with friends and Navratilova was playing.
At the time, Czech-born Martina was going through a 'divorce' from her other long-term lesbian lover, Judy Nelson, who was also cast aside after nearly eight years together.
After the split, Nelson, who left her husband and two young sons to live with Navratilova, sued her for $ 7.5million (the settlement is confidential but believed to be around half that figure).
She also wrote two books about their life together - and the fallout.
'If only I had read Judy's books, I would have known what Marti was capable of,' says Toni. 'It was history repeating itself all over again. Everything that happened to me was exactly as Judy described it in her book: no warning, an attempt at a forced settlement shoved in her face.'
But she hadn't read the books and instead she found Martina - by now in a relationship with former Olympic skier Cindy Nelson - charming. They had a chat and Toni offered some consoling words about the 'divorce' from Judy.
At that time, Toni was married to her now ex-husband, Jeffrey Lambert. She says now the marriage was not consummated and was 'one of convenience for both of us', but declines to elaborate.
Around the mid-Nineties, a mutual friend gave her Martina's email address and in 1996 they began writing to one another. 'We became good friends, writing and telling each other about our lives, our loves, our interests.'
From time to time, Martina visited Toni and her husband at their home in New Jersey.
I'm A Celebrity...: Martina was a surprise hit on ITV's popular reality show
The romance began in 2000 when Toni had been in New Hampshire visiting friends and Martina decided to join her.
'Our first kiss was outside a 7/11 store,' says Toni. 'She offered me an orange, then began crying as she reminisced about the first time she had ever done that to anyone, for her beloved grandmother.
'I leaned over to kiss her on the cheek in comfort and it just happened. Everything fell into place for both of us.'
A month later, they were 'married' in an unofficial ceremony at Mount Washington State Park in New Hampshire.
'We climbed on to some rocks and held each other as we exchanged vows. It was just the two of us and was very romantic. She said: "I give you my heart, my love and my devotion. I love you with all my being. I've never felt like this with anyone before."'
Later, they had platinum wedding bands made for each other.
Within weeks, Martina moved into Toni's house in New Jersey. One other person was living at the house - Toni's husband.
'He had his room and we had ours. Yes, it was unconventional, but our marriage was simply one of mutual convenience.
'Jeffrey knew I wasn't interested in men when we married, but perhaps he thought he could turn me. He told me he was a virgin and I was, too. And that's the way it stayed between us.
'For me, Marti is the only lover I have ever had.'
At the outset, Toni and Marti divided their time between New Jersey and Martina's luxurious property near the ski resort of Aspen, Colorado, before moving to the west coast of Florida in 2003 after Martina fell in love with the area on a corporate business trip.
They bought a $2 million property outside the coastal town of Nokomis, near Sarasota.
It was picture-postcard perfect, with a white picket fence and gardens adorned with bougainvillea and framed by palms. The happy couple shared their home with 17 dogs.
Later, they bought the smaller $1.5 million house next door and another house down the road to accommodate Navratilova's trainers and friends with whom she practised tennis.
Their cars included a sporty Range Rover, a convertible Mercedes and a Jeep. They also bought a $20,000 speed boat and a jet ski.
Toni had access to all Navratilova's money, as they had shared bank accounts.
Toni's marital home in New Jersey was sold in 2004. The money from the sale, says Toni, should have been split between her and her estranged husband, but when he refused to hand over her share, Martina urged her to 'let it go'.
The following year, the couple paid $1.25million for a 30-acre farm near their Florida home, which they turned into a sanctuary for abandoned animals.
'We had to hand-feed the 26 emaciated cows that came with it,' Toni recalls. 'Then came three baby pigs, Huey, Dewey and Lewey, and many more animals after that.'
'But as soon as Marti decided our relationship was over, it seems she decided the animals no longer mattered. She put the ranch up for sale at a knockdown price and doesn't seem to care about what will happen to the animals.'
During their relationship, Toni claims she was utterly supportive of Martina, who remained fiercely ambitious. In 2006, she made a second comeback, winning the mixed doubles title at the U.S. Open with Bob Bryan.
'She said it was to prove to herself that she still had it and she needed to win it to satisfy something inside her.' Martina would obsess about Chris Evert, says Toni, and would question Evert's record of 157 singles titles.
'Marti was convinced her number of wins was closer to 140 and was desperate to prove it without making it look as if she was the one who instigated the investigation,' says Toni.
'She needed a plan. She said: "I am going to ask the Women's Tennis Association to look into making sure my record is accurate. Then, when they find it is fine, I will say maybe you should look to check other people's, people like Chris Evert."'
Whether she did remains unclear. By the beginning of 2008, the ' marriage' was as strong as ever - at least it was in Toni's mind. Martina had decided otherwise.
For Christmas 2007, Martina's present to her 'wife' was a TV remote control console, which in hindsight could be taken as a sign that all was not well. 'I guessed that was just Marti being the thoughtless person she could be at times.'
Two days after Christmas, Martina flew to Australia on a business venture, returning home in January.
On the day she was due to fly in to the airport at Sarasota, she left Toni a message on her phone. 'Hi honey,' it said. 'I am coming in. Pick me up at the airport. I love you.'
At the airport, Toni sensed straight away that something was wrong. 'I helped her with her bags and put them in the car and, although she was talking to me, I said "There is something wrong here", but she insisted everything was fine.'
On the way home, they stopped for lunch at Martina's favourite whole food restaurant and, before leaving, Martina spent a long time in the bathroom. 'I later realised that was because she was obviously making phone calls.'
Toni says Navratilova told her she had decided to release her office manager, Mariaan De Swardt, and wanted to get it over as soon as possible, so could they go to the office.
The manager was waiting when they arrived. Another friend of Martina and Toni, Candy Pantano, who was working part-time for Martina but left her employ after the incident because she was so disgusted, was also in the room.
These two women were to witness the scene that unfolded. Ms Pantano has since signed an affidavit saying she saw one of the guards put his left hand on Toni's throat, then grab her left arm with his right hand.
Kicked out with nothing
Toni says she needed physical therapy for three months after the incident. 'It was the worst day of my life,' she says. 'I was kicked out on the street and left with nothing, save for the clothes on my back.'
Toni was now barred from the house she had lived in for five years. She says her possessions - furniture, jewellery given to her by Navratilova, clothes and photographs - were locked in storage. Meanwhile, Navratilova set about selling their Florida properties.
'Marti made a lot of wire transfers in the middle of January last year, but I didn't really think anything about it at the time,' says Toni.
'I now know she was preparing things for when she got rid of me. Before kicking me out, she had my credit cards cancelled and my name removed from the joint accounts. I'm not sure how all this was possible, but she had a team of lawyers, so I guess they arranged everything for her.'
She adds: 'They seem to have done a fabulous job in trying to rewrite history.'
After she was thrown out of the house, Toni removed her wedding ring and gave it to a friend, who passed it to Martina. Martina gave the friend her own ring to pass back to Toni.
Toni received and refused the offer of a $200,000 settlement, with stipulations including a 'gagging order', meaning she would never be able to discuss what happened with anyone.
'It's easy to understand why she would want that,' says Toni wryly.
'I told my lawyer I wanted $350,000 for a house and $150,000 to help me get started again. I want and deserve a fair settlement for what I gave up to be with Marti.
'I was Marti's life partner and expected to be with her for the rest of my days.
'We had even talked about adopting. Marti told me "You'd make a great mother", but I told her there's no way we could consider it until she was fully retired. I told her a child needed two parents and it wouldn't work if she was never around.
'I'm not sure if it was ever anything more than a "nice thought" for Marti. She has always been a selfish person.
'What matters to Marti is travelling and looking after herself. I'm not sure how a child could have "fitted in" for her. She is not really a family woman.'
She adds: 'The greatest irony is that all this is happening in Florida, a state that doesn't recognise gay rights. Marti makes out she's a champion of gay rights, yet here she is, hiding behind Florida's antiquated same-sex laws.'
Martina has recently spoken about a new lover, but not named the woman in question.
Toni says: 'I really don't know whether Marti was cheating on me. I had no reason to suspect she was.
'After what happened, I was left an emotional wreck with nothing left to show for eight years of my life. I still suffer nightmares today. It's something I don't think I will ever properly recover from.
'Part of me feels sad, but I am also angry at what happened then and subsequently. I actually feel very sorry for her. But what I want is justice.'
Last night, a spokesman for Martina Navratilova said: 'As we said in the past, this is a private matter and we don't comment on private matters. We do not accept her assertions and do not believe they merit a response.'
Miss Navratilova might have been all-conquering on the tennis court, but perhaps in her spurned lover Toni Layton she will meet her match in a court of law.