From The Sunday Times
June 21, 2009
Navratilova: Graf was
my greatest opponent
Martina Navratilova: tied in knots with my skirt falling
What do you remember of your first match at Wimbledon?
The memory is very clear. I played against that British institution Christine Truman Janes on the now demolished No 1 Court. I was 16 and the thing that sticks in my memory was wearing a really tight Fred Perry dress. It was frilly and pretty, but itchy and uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to get off the court and I don’t think I wore it for the following match.
Christine was only 32 at the time but I remember thinking in my disrespectful, cocky way that she was an old lady, and what could she have left? A few years later there I was, playing a Wimbledon singles final at the age of 38.
What was your most memorable match at Wimbledon?
There are so many. The mixed doubles final I won in 2003 is as special to me as my first singles title win, over Chris Evert, 25 years earlier. Or maybe the ladies’ doubles title I won with Chris in 1976, beating Billie Jean King and Betty Stove. Then there are all the finals in between, playing Chris, Hana Mandlikova, Steffi Graf. It’s impossible to choose one.
What do you remember about your last match at Wimbledon?
It was disappointing because it was on No 2 Court in the mixed doubles in 2006. Nadia Petrova and I had been beaten in the ladies’ doubles earlier in the day and then Mark Knowles and I got directed outside to play against Vera Zvonareva and Andy Ram, who went on to win the title. I needed a little bit of luck that day but suppose I had used up my share over the years. The tennis I played at that Wimbledon was the best I had played since returning to the sport but sometimes doubles just isn’t fair.
Who was your greatest opponent at Wimbledon?
I played so many legends. There was Margaret Court, there was Billie Jean, there were nine singles matches against Chris. I played the Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, in doubles. All are great players for different reasons. Chris and I formed the greatest female rivalry in tennis. I tend to think of the matches against Steffi rather than Chris but that might be because they are more recent. With Chris I felt more in control, but against Steffi it was a game of cat and mouse. She had that big serve and huge forehand.
What is your strangest or funniest memory from Wimbledon?
Both strange and funny was my skirt falling down in the 1983 final against Andrea Jaeger. It had a tie around the waist and I had been stretching in the locker room before I walked out onto the court, loosening the knot. Unfortunately, I forgot to tie it up again and when I was going through the service motion for the first time I felt the skirt slipping down. I was gripped by the realisation that I had to make a decision; go for the ball or hold up my skirt. Thankfully the return went wide so I grabbed my skirt and preserved my modesty.
What is your recollection of Wimbledon off the court
It was just the simple process of getting to and from the courts. I always rented a house near by so I would simply walk to the courts. I remember the adventure of wondering whether the security guards at the gate would search me or not. One year they refused to let me in because my name was not on a certain list. It’s the only tournament in the world where so many of the players live in such close proximity and walk to the site, and that makes it special.
How many times have you been back since retiring?
Every year without fail. I’m always doing television work so have not missed a year since 1973. Wimbledon in the last week of June and first week in July has become my way of life. I’ve been there for events or appearances before or after the Championships and it feels so very different and quiet. It feels very strange to me because I equate Wimbledon with its people.
Who are the top five Wimbledon players of all time, male and female.
Four men spring to mind: Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Rod Laver. I guess you would have to put either Bill Tilden or William Renshaw in there from back in history. I couldn’t choose between the last-named two because I didn’t see either play, although I know what they accomplished. In the women’s game, there’s Billie Jean, Steffi, Venus and Helen Wills Moody, who won Wimbledon eight times. Modesty means I can’t pick myself, so, much as I would love to put my own name in there, I have to finish the list with Margaret Court.