Martina Navratilova May be Retired, but She Still wants to Win
At 61, Martina Navratilova was the oldest of the 16 participants in the Wimbledon women’s invitational doubles, an exhibition event for retired players during the second week of the tournament.
Navratilova owns another superlative, according to her peers: most competitive.
“Martina, hands down,” said Marion Bartoli, laughing. “Without any doubt for one second, not even half a second.”
In an event that often fits into the “hit-and-giggle” category of tennis exhibition matches — last year’s viral moment was Kim Clijsters encouraging a large male fan to put on one of her skirts — Navratilova’s professionalism and dedication shines through.
Navratilova acknowledged her competitive fire.
“I wouldn’t know any other way,” she said. “But then you still want to keep it close; you don’t want to embarrass people out there.
“But yeah, if I didn’t feel that I could hold my own, I wouldn’t be playing, because I have way too much pride for that.”
Bartoli, like the others, saw that competitiveness as an extension of Navratilova’s qualities. Among those playing in the Wimbledon invitational, she was by far the most dominant during her career, winning 18 Grand Slams in singles, 31 in women’s doubles, and 10 in mixed doubles.
“You understand why she has been able to be so successful when she was playing, because she just has that winning spirit in everything,” Bartoli said. “The rest of us are taking it way more chill, and we just want to have a bit of fun.”
Navratilova’s continued intensity has paid off. Since the event was created in 2007, she has made the final 10 of 12 times.
Barbara Schett said Navratilova’s past success had only made her want more.
“She’s such a champion and won so many, so she’s not used to losing, I think,” Schett said before she faced Navratilova in a round-robin match this week. “She’s really keen to still win. She’s having a good time, she has a lot of laughs and stuff like that, but she doesn’t like to lose at all, no.”
“She’s so fit and her court coverage is unbelievable,” Schett added. “I think it’s an honor to play with her, you know? Just sometimes you think she could take it a little bit more easy.”
Schett and her partner Conchita Martinez were soundly beaten by Navratilova and Cara Black, 6-4, 6-3.
While there is pressure playing against Navratilova, there is perhaps more for her partner.
Selima Sfar, who played with Navratilova here three times, said she had to catch up to Navratilova’s level of commitment.
Like most of the other players in the event, Navratilova fits matches into a full schedule. She works during Wimbledon as a commentator for Tennis Channel and the BBC. She is at the tournament with her wife, Julia Lemigova, and their two daughters.
While Novak Djokovic was beating Kevin Anderson in the men’s singles final Sunday on Centre Court, Navratilova was throwing herself around No. 1 Court in the women’s invitational final, twice diving to the ground in attempts to reach balls out of her reach.
After going undefeated in the round-robin play, Navratilova and Black lost a hard-fought final, 6-3, 6-4, to Clijsters, 35, and Rennae Stubbs, 47.
Clijsters, 26 years younger than Navratilova, was struck by the energy Navratilova brought to court.
“For me, it’s an honor to be with somebody like her,” Clijsters said after the final. “It’s how she is in between the points, how she thinks, how fired up she still gets. And she has to. As an athlete, you are competitive, and that will always stay a little bit in your system.”
Stubbs said that younger players often shy away from pressure and expectations, and that they could learn from the demands Navratilova puts on herself.
“It’s also a lesson for the young kids that no matter what age, she was never satisfied, and she’s still not. I see some of these comments from young players and they say, ‘Well, I’m glad I don’t have to defend that title now.’ What? How about, ‘I’m pissed I didn’t win again’?”
In assessing how the final had gone, Navratilova said Clijsters played better than last year, Black not as well as last year. She also repositioned what it meant for her to still be known for her competitiveness.
“It’s funny when they talk about women, saying, ‘Oh, she’s so competitive,’ and it’s almost a put-down,” she said. “For me, what’s the alternative? To try to lose, or to not give your best? ‘Competitive’ means you’re concentrating, and you do everything to try to prepare as well as you can, and do your best out there.”
And she intends to keep doing that a little while longer.
“I’m still able to hold my ground; they’re not picking on me yet,” Navratilova said. “Once they start picking on me and we start losing, then I’ll hang it up.”