— Martina Navratilova, winner of 18 career Grand Slam singles titles and a record 233 tournament triumphs, took her place in the International Tennis Hall of Fame Saturday.
Navratilova was ushered into the Hall of Fame along with Australian Mal Anderson, a former U.S. singles champion and Davis Cup star in the 1950s, and Californian Robert Kelleher, a former non-playing U.S. Davis Cup captain and an administrator who played a key role in the advent of the open tennis era.
Anderson, an Australian Davis Cupper in 1954, 1957, 1958 and 1973, became the first unseeded player to win the U.S. title when he beat rival Ashley Cooper in the 1957 final.
Anderson, who teamed up with compatriot John Newcombe to win the 1973 Australian Open doubles at the age of 37, also reached the finals of the 1958 U.S. Open and the 1957 and 1958 Australian Opens only to lose to Cooper.
Skills and Style Distinguished Her
Navratilova was an irresistible force, who ruled in doubles as well as in singles.
Besides logging 331 weeks as the world number one women’s singles player, Navratilova compiled 165 career doubles titles and achieved a doubles Grand Slam sweep with partner Pam Shriver in 1984.
Navratilova, whose athleticism, fitness and dedication to aggressive serve-and-volley tactics set her apart on the women’s tour, said the thing about her career that made her most proud was summed up in the word, “committment.”
Although she turned professional at 17, Navratilova said she did not become totally serious about her career until the early ’80s when she recognized the importance of conditioning.
“I really started late as far as total commitment to the game and conditioning were concerned,” she said. “The thing I have noticed the most in recent tennis is the stress the young people are putting on conditioning.
“Even the coaches are exercising. I was almost 26 when I really got going. I’m happy that I finally gave it my best shot.”
‘Transcends the Sport’
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1956, Navratilova became a U.S. citizen in 1981. When she retired from singles in ’94, she had served and volleyed her way to nine Wimbledon titles, including a record six straight. She also won three Australian Opens, two French Opens and four U.S. singles crowns.
“Winning is great, losing is not often fun — but the bottom line is enjoying the game,” she said.
Navratilova was also set apart by her openly gay lifestyle. She was introduced at the induction ceremonies by transsexual Dr. Rene Richards.
“She transcends the sport more than most — the physical, the mental and the inspirational,” said Richards. “One can not teach courage and intensity. Martina raised the bar for women’s tennis.”
Got Tennis Start in Prague
Martina recalled getting her start in tennis from her mother and father in Prague. “My parents taught me the game when I was seven while they were taking care of the courts. That’s how they got our club membership.”
As for her decision to leave her homeland, Navratilova said: “It was really no decision. If I wanted to play tennis I had to leave the country. What I regret the most is that I had to leave my family.”
Navratilova, 43, has not yet quit as a player. She played both women’s doubles and mixed doubles at Wimbledon this year and still competes in team tennis.
“I’m looking for partners now for the Open,” she said, about the U.S. championships beginning next month. “And if I’m in shape, I hope I can play next year.
“The beauty of the sport is the variety. If you take away the doubles, you take away a great part of the game. Doubles should be written about more. The young people should know, if you play doubles you can become a better singles player.”
Navratilova admits that because of her sexual orientation, she is “continuing to speak up as long as we don’t have equal rights in the world. We have it pretty well in this country — but there still could be improvement,” she said.