Person of the Week: Martina Navratilova

Some have said tennis champion Martina Navratilova is too old to do what she does. But she makes no apologies.

"It was nice to be walking out a winner for a change," she said, smiling.

Navratilova stunned the tennis world this week by becoming the oldest woman since 1922 to win a singles match at Wimbledon.

Topic one for the assembled tennis press after her win: How does a 47-year-old do it?

"Did you in your own mind have any doubts that you could come out here and be competitive?" asked a reporter.

Navratilova responded, "No. I told you that in Paris. You guys didn't believe me (smiling). Now do you believe me?"

"The ball doesn't know I'm 47 years old. It's going, 'No, please don't hit me!' I love playing tennis. I want to stay out there for as long as I can, and if you can still compete and people enjoy watching you, why not?" she said.

Navratilova is one of number of elite athletes over 40 and still going. Six time MVP Barry Bonds will turn 40 next month. Forty-one-year-old pitcher Roger Clemens leads the national league in wins. Football player Jerry Rice is still playing at 41. He's known as "the best receiver in football history."

"I think you could say that 40 for an athlete today is what 30 used to be," said sports writer Frank DeFord. "They used to come to spring training or to their new camps to get in shape, now they're in shape all year round. Now of course it's different for tennis which is an individual sport and a very grueling sport, so that what Martina is doing in tennis, that is very unusual."

Navratilova won an astounding 167 singles titles and 166 doubles titles in a career which has spanned nearly 30 years. She changed the game of women's tennis by forcing opponents to reach her standards of fitness and athleticism.

"She's really looking good, playing good, running," said fellow tennis champ Goran Ivanisevic. "I mean, she is 48. Probably I'm going to be in wheelchair at 48. But she's just great, great. She's my hero, you know.

Body Not What It Used to Be

Navratilova admits, though, that her body today isn't what it was 20 years ago.

"The last 20 years I really put in the work to take care of my body," she said. "If there is an injury I take care of it right away. And I eat right. I think the biggest difference is recovery and being able to feel 100 percent rather consistently rather than once in a while."

In 1994, the grind of the tennis tour took was too much and Navratilova retired.

"I will miss this game, but I am ready for my new life. Thank you very much," she said during a 1994 ceremony.

Growing Up on the Court

Navratilova was born in Czechoslovakia and first came to America to play tennis in 1973. She defected to America, seeking freedom to play tennis whenever and wherever she chose.

She grew up on the court and in the public eye. Years later Navratilova came out as a lesbian, saying she wanted to avoid a life of deception.

"It's much easier being heterosexual, believe me," she said. "It's much easier pretending, but I have a life to live that I want to live to it's fullest and pretending is not really the way I like to be."

Last year, Navratilova began her comeback. She and her doubles partner won at Wimbledon.

"I inspire people and they, in turn, inspire me. It's a symbiotic relationship between me and my fans," she said.

Navratilova lost the second round at Wimbledon on Thursday. She moves on to her next match — women's doubles where she and her partner are ranked third.

"I'm not upset I lost. I'm just disappointed I didn't play my best tennis. I should have played better," she said.

"It's a tremendous amount of comfort and security that comes with Martina," said DeFord. "And I think that's why she can be so successful. You can't beat her. If she loses, she's OK. 'I did it, I did it for me.' "

At Navratilova's age there's still plenty of time to improve.

I do know that most people can do more than they do with their life," she said. "I wish they wouldn't use age as an excuse to not to something. That should not be a determining factor whether they are going to do something or not. So 30, 40 who cares? Just go out there and do it."

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