Born in Czechoslovakia in 1956, Martina Navratilova began playing tennis at a young age, and was one of the top female tennis players in the world in the late 1970s and early '80s. Later in life, she authored a series of fiction books and was active in the gay rights movement.
The most dominant female tennis player in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Martina Navratilova was born as Martina Subertova on October 18, 1956, in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now known as the Czech Republic). Her parents divorced when she was 3, and Navratilova and her mother, Jana, relocated from a ski lodge in the Krkonose Mountains for a new life just outside of Prague. As a result, Navratilova never grew close to her father, Miroslav Subert, a complicated man who suffered from depression and later killed himself after the demise of his second marriage.
In 1962, Navratilova's mother remarried, to a man named Mirek Navrátil. Navratilova eventually took her stepfather's last name, tweaking it slightly by adding a feminine "ova" at the end. Navratilova and her new father grew close, with Mirek becoming her first tennis coach.
The game was certainly in Navratilova's blood. Her grandmother had been an international player who had upset the mother of Vera Sukova, a 1962 Wimbledon finalist, in a national tournament. Navratilova's own tennis instincts were coupled with a passion for improvement. At the age of 4, she was hitting tennis balls off of a cement wall. By age 7, she was playing regularly, working with Mirek and spending hours on the court each day, working on her strokes and footwork.
At age 9, Navratilova began taking lessons from Czech champion George Parma, who further refined the young player's game. At age 15, she won the Czech national championship. In 1973, at 16, she turned pro and began competing in the United States.
Navratilova knew that staying in her home country might limit her chances on the professional circuit. With Czechoslovakia squarely under Soviet control, 18-year-old Navratilova defected to the United States at the 1975 U.S. Open. The decision meant she'd be cut off from her family for years, but it also set her career up for an unprecedented level of success. In 1978, she won her first Grand Slam tournament with a victory over American Chris Evert at Wimbledon.
Navratilova defended her Wimbledon title the following year, once again beating Evert in the finals, and then won a third Grand Slam victory at the 1981 Australian Open. By the early 1980s, Navratilova was the most dominant player in women's tennis.
In 1982, Navratilova captured both the Wimbledon and the French Open crowns, and would go on to lose only six matches from 1982 to 1984. In all, she won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 Grand Slam women's doubles championships and 10 Grand Slam mixed doubles. Her greatest success came at Wimbledon, where she advanced to 12 singles finals, winning nine titles. Navratilova retired from singles play in 1994, but continued to play in doubles matches. In 2003, she won the mixed doubles championship at Wimbledon. Three years later, she repeated the accomplishment with a win at the U.S. Open.
Coupled with Navratilova's on-court success came her openness about her sexual orientation. "I never thought there was anything strange about being gay," she wrote in her 1985 autobiography, Martina. She proposed to her girlfriend Julia Lemigova on the big screen at Arthur Ashe Stadium during the 2014 U.S. Open. The couple wed on December 15, 2014 in New York City.
In April 2010, Navratilova revealed that she had breast cancer. After six months of treatment, she became cancer-free.
In retirement, Navratilova hasn't completely stayed out of the public eye. In March 2012, she made her debut on Dancing with the Stars. She's also continued to remain active. Navratilova still regularly plays tennis and competes in triathlons. Additionally, she has served as a fitness ambassador for the American Association of Retired Persons.
In 2008, Navratilova announced plans to open an academy for young tennis players in her home country, the Czech Republic.
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