Talk about Martina Navratilova is talking about a tennis player who could perfectly oppose the debate about who is the best tennis player in history. As simple as that. An athlete who won everything, several times, in different modalities. However, he was about to hang up the racket (for the second time) without savoring the pleasure of playing a few Olympic Games. How is this possible, considering that the Czech was competing until she was 50? A story that we rescue today taking advantage of the start of the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games.
To explain the story well, first we must highlight all the problems that Martina went through as a citizen of Czechoslovakia. A country that was absorbed by communism, where homosexual people were persecuted, in short, a place in the midst of a crisis of values that made your life impossible if you did not familiarize yourself with their ideas. Navratilova obviously had nothing to do with them. On 1975, with just 18 years, the one from Prague made a final decision after losing to Chris Evert in US Open semifinals. He went to the US Immigration Service office asking for political asylum and temporary residency. At the time, sad as it was, it was the only solution. Of course, he would never have imagined that it would take more than a decade to see his family again, when a Federation Cup series between the Czech Republic and the USA allowed him to set foot on his homeland again in 1986.
However, the reasons why he never finished rounding an Olympiad had nothing to do with political issues. The only thing Martina needed to fulfill that dream was a nationality, the American one, which she obtained on July 21, 1981. From that moment on, she could have gone to Seoul 1988, year where tennis returned to take place in the Olympic program, but rejected the offer due to accumulated fatigue and the long journey that awaited him to Korea. He may also have played in Barcelona 1992, but he refused in order not to break an advertising contract already signed, this time it was a controversial reason. By last, Atlanta 1996 caught her offside, as she had retired two years earlier. It seemed incredible that someone the weight of Navratilova had left the circuit without playing an Olympic Games … until the miracle happened.
I return as a doubles player, the last option
In 2000, at the age of 44 and after six seasons retired, Martina Navratilova decided to return to the professional circuit to play only the doubles modality. Many did not believe it, but they quickly saw that the talent was still in the same place as always, on his left wrist. In 2003, she joined forces with her compatriot Lisa Raymond –17 years her junior– to fight for that chrome that was still missing from the album. This is how he achieved the complete collection, landing in Athens 2004 with 47 years and becoming the oldest tennis player in history to compete in the Olympic Games, surpassing the record that Norman Brookes (46 years old) had signed in Paris in 1924.
“This will be my first and only Olympic experience. The fact of wearing the team uniform is already an incredible feeling. I love being part of this selection, you realize how much each person contributes to the group. The opportunity presented to me to play here was so great that I could not resist ”, confessed that summer the champion of 59 Grand Slam titles. Yes, you heard right, a total of 59 divided into 18 singles, 31 in doubles and 10 in mixed doubles. In addition to 19 WTA Finals, four Federation Cups and 332 weeks as world number one in the ranking. Anyway, I only put this to underline how necessary it was that this woman did not leave this planet without enjoying that last experience.
Her path with Raymond took her to the quarterfinals, where they lost to the Japanese Asagoe / Sugiyama (6-4, 4-6, 6-4), although the goal was already accomplished. After 30 years on the circuit and 340 titles, no one would have to tell you what it feels like to defend your nation in the biggest sporting event in the world. “I had never been to the Olympics, it was a thorn that I wanted to remove one day. Now that they have finished for me, I feel that it has been a great experience, I wish I could have gone further and been here for more days. From the moment I arrived it was like I was living a dream, so I don’t want it to end. People had given me up when I was 25 years old, but now the age limit to play has gone up to 40, it will never be 30 again, “he declared at his farewell. Once again, good old Martina was not wrong.