Evert won the 1975 US Open over Evonne Goolagonf in an entertaining final, but the story of the event was the defection of Navratilova.
MARTINA NAVRATILOVA DEFECTS TO THE WEST
It had all the Cold War intrigue of a James Bond film or a John Le Carré novel. The 1975 US Open will forever be remembered, not for who won it, but for the dramatic defection of Martina Navratilova from Czechoslovakia to the United States.
It all happened halfway through the New York tournament. Helped by one of her American sports agents, Fred Barman, and the FBI, the 18-year-old Navratilova was given permission by the American authorities to defect to the USA. But she was well aware of how much it would infuriate her own communist government, so she kept the whole affair as secret as possible, not even telling her family or friends what she was planning.
“Fred was convinced that somebody was going to stuff me in a taxi, jab me with a hypodermic needle, and hustle me on to an airplane bound for Czechoslovakia,” she later wrote in her biography.
Eventually after much sneaking around, lying low and Cold War shenanigans, Navratilova received her much coveted green card.
The Czech authorities were furious. “Navratilova has suffered a defeat in the face of the Czechoslovak society,” said the Czech Tennis Federation in an official statement. “She had all possibilities in Czechoslovakia to develop her talent, but she preferred a professional career and a fat bank account.”
There’s no doubt that defection was Navratilova’s passport to both financial and sporting success. But it was also her route to freedom. In the years prior to her switching nationality, Czech authorities had been very suspicious. They were already restricting her travelling visas and refusing her access to some of the tournaments she asked to compete at. Once she had become a US citizen her career took off. Over the following three decades she saw amazing success at the Grand Slams, winning 18 Singles, 31 Doubles and 10 Mixed doubles titles. Had she remained a Czech citizen, travel restrictions and reduced financial incentives would without doubt have hampered her development – at least until the Czech communists were overthrown in 1989.
Nevertheless, those early years as a defector weren’t easy for Navratilova. “I had to wait five years to become a (US) citizen,” she said, “which meant five years of avoiding flights over Communist territory, just in case my plane would be forced to land and I would be taken off it. I wasn’t taking any chances.”
When she won Wimbledon for the first time in 1978 the Czech media blanked out all coverage. It wasn’t until 1986, during the final death throes of the Soviet Bloc that she felt comfortable enough to return to Prague. This time it was as a member of the American Federation Cup team.
Inevitably, her 1975 defection upstaged much of the on-court action at that year’s US Open. American players Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert both reached the final, the latter winning the title. But for the USA, the most important result that year was Navratilova’s defection: USA 1, Czechoslovakia 0.