Navratilova is right at home
Tennis legend is ready to play doubles in a tournament in her new hometown.
BY By MIC HUBER
March 31 2003
Sarasota Herald Tribune
SARASOTA -- Martina Navratilova was driving toward Naples when she pulled off I-75 at one of the Sarasota exchanges. That little detour turned out to be a big moment for the most successful tennis player in the history of the game.
Looking for a place to call home in Florida, Navratilova liked what she saw of Sarasota and the surrounding area. Last month she moved into a house on Casey Key.
"I had been wanting to move to Florida since I took a vacation in the Keys in 1993," said Navratilova, who also owns a home in Colorado. "I fell in love with the state. I love the sun and being able to walk around in shorts and a T-shirt."
Navratilova said she had been planning to visit the Gulf Coast for some time and now that she is here the tennis legend is making this her primary residence.
This week Navratilova plays as a "hometowner" when she competes in doubles with Liezel Huber in the Sarasota Clay Court Classic at The Meadows Country Club. Navratilova's entry was the final coup for a tournament that gets under way today with a field that includes many of the top players and personalities in the game.
For quality in the singles draw, there are six players ranked in the top 20 in the world -- defending champion Jelena Dokic (9), Anastasia Myskina (11), Patty Schnyder (13), Ai Sugiyama (18), Elena Dementieva (19) and Anna Pistolesi (20).
For pizazz, there is Anna Kournikova, who is known by more people who have never seen a tennis ball hit in anger than any player on the tour. And for history, there are three former singles champions in Grand Slam tournaments playing singles here -- Sarasota's Mary Pierce, Conchita Martinez and Iva Majoli.
But none have the lure, the history or the results of the celebrated Navratilova, a player who not only has won more tournament titles than any man or woman in the game, but continues to win today at the age of 46. A winner of 167 singles titles and 168 doubles titles -- both records -- Navratilova came out of six-year retirement to begin playing doubles in 2000. Last year, she played singles at Eastbourne in England after a 71/2- year break.
Earlier this year, Navratilova teamed with Leander Pas to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title to become the oldest person to win a Grand Slam title and completing a run of winning singles, doubles and mixed doubles at all four Grand Slam events.
"Once you do something, then you want to do it well," Navratilova said Friday night about what continues to drive her. "No matter what I do, I want to do the best I can."
Nobody has done it better in tennis for as long as Navratilova, who first played in Sarasota in 1973 at the Bath and Racquet Club, a place she has been using to work on her game since moving here. Her accomplishments on the court are phenomenal and her endeavors off the court are just as impressive.
A winner of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, including nine at Wimbledon, Navratilova was ranked No. 1 for 331 weeks and named the 1980s Athlete of the Decade by The National Sports Review, UPI and the Associated Press.
Off the court, she has been an author, activist and a benefactor of various charities.
Asked her greatest accomplishment in the game, Navratilova doesn't hesitate when she responds, "I think it is my body of work." She then adds, "My greatest accomplishment will still come when I will become the human being that I ought to be."
As a player at the top of her game, she had no peers. And at a time most players her age only play socially, Navratilova still believes she could cause some havoc on the tour.
"It would depend on who I played," she said. "On a given day, I could match up with pretty much anybody except maybe the top five. I would hold my own. Let's put it this way, I wouldn't be embarrassed. It's just hard to do it three matches in a row."
This past year, she won a round of singles at Eastbourne against Tatiana Panova, a finalist in Sarasota last year, before losing in three sets against Daniela Hantuchova, then ranked No. 13.
For the past year, Navratilova has been training with Giselle Tirado, who once trained Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Navratilova said the results of the training have been more impressive than she could have imagined.
"I really feel a lot better on the court, pretty quick," said Navratilova, who has been seen working out at the Evalyn Sadlier Jones YMCA. "I feel I am back to where I was in the 1980 and 1990s fitness-wise.
She said Friday that she may play singles at Eastbourne again this year but is unsure whether she wants to add more singles tournaments to her schedule.
"Everyone is on my case to play singles but that is really hard work, a total commitment," Navratilova said. "If you play singles, tennis is your life, there is nothing else. I have a pretty good balance now between tennis and a normal life."
Her normal life now includes painting walls in her new home and lots of beach activities, including swimming, kayaking and collecting shells.
Her tennis life includes beating up people half her age and more.
"I will continue to play as long as I enjoy it," she said. "Maybe I will stop when I reach my potential. I know that may sound funny but, of what I can do now, I know I can do better."
Three years ago, Navratilova played doubles against Venus Williams.
After the match, Williams jokingly said that Navratilova should start acting her age.
"I don't want to act my age, whatever that is," Navratilova said. "I just want to keep enjoy doing what I am doing."
Nobody does it better.