Martina Navratilova

Raised in the US South, my childhood was immersed in sports. Over time, my passion evolved into a mission to share overlooked tales from the sports world. I created Daily Dose of Sports to highlight stories of perseverance, legends, and unsung heroes. Today, I'm not just a sports enthusiast - I'm a storyteller. Read more about me here.

No tennis player in history—male or female-has won more titles or matches than Martina Navratilova.

By 25, an age by which many professional tennis players are contemplating retirement, Navratilova had won only three Grand Slam titles.  By the time she left the game, she had won 18.  Martina won 31 Grand Slam doubles titles—more than any player in history—and added 16 Grand Slam mixed doubles championships.  Her 56 Grand Slam championships are second only to Margaret Court [Daily Dose, 9/12/16] on the all-time list.  Like Reggie and Magic, Martina was recognizable by her first name, and she dominated tennis in the 1980s like Bill Tilden did in the Twenties.  Navratilova did it the hard way: a Communist immigrant whose chief rival was America’s darling; a left-hander in a right-handed universe; gay in a straight world–hers was an uphill climb.  Her public perception advanced from animosity to acceptance to adulation.  With a wicked serve, she would rush to the net and play in an attacking style.  Long before Serena [Daily Dose, 7/5/16], there was Martina, who pioneered “power tennis.”

Born as Martina Subertova on October 8, 1956, in then-Communist Czechoslovakia, her ski instructor parents divorced when she was three.  Her mother, who was an accomplished gymnast and tennis player, moved her children from a ski lodge in the Krkonose Mountains to just outside Prague.  At four, Martina started hitting a tennis ball against the wall.  Two years later, her mother married Marislav Navratil and Martina took the name of her stepfather, adding the feminine suffix “ova” to become Martina Navratilova.  Marislav became her first tennis coach, and she started playing at 7.  Navratilova won the Czech national championship at 15 before making her USTA debut the following year.  In 1974, she won her first professional singles title.  The following year, she won her first Grand Slam title [teaming with Chris Evert in doubles], turned pro, and defected to the United States.

Navratilova won her first Grand Slam singles title at Wimbledon in 1978.  She repeated the feat the following year, earning the second of a record nine Wimbledon crowns in her career.  By the early 1980s, Navratilova’s penchant for fast food had put 167 pounds on her 5’7” frame.  After losing in the 1983 French Open, she moved to Dallas to live and train with basketball star Nancy Lieberman and became the most dominant player in women’s tennis.  Following her loss at Roland Garros [Daily Dose, 5/26/16], Navratilova captured the year’s three remaining Grand Slam events to become the first player to win majors on clay, grass and hardcourt all in the same year.  She finished the year 86-1 in singles, still the best season in history.  She won six consecutive Grand Slam titles in a 14-month stretch.  The training hardened her both physically and mentally.  After losing 21 of her first 25 matches to Evert [Daily Dose, 12/21/15], Navratilova controlled the rivalry and finished with a 43-37 edge.  “Martina revolutionized the game by her superb athleticism and aggressiveness, said Evert.  “She brought athleticism to a whole new level with her training techniques.”

Martina Navratilova’s record is mind-numbing: 56 Grand Slam titles, a career singles record of 1,442-219 [86.8 percent], double-digit Tour wins between 1978 and 1986, and 15 years ranked in the top three in the world.  She had four of the top six Open Era seasons, the longest winning streak [74] of the Open Era, and three of the top six longest winning steaks in history.  Martina is the only player in history to win six major singles crowns without losing a single set.  How dominant was Navratilova?  She won 428 of 442 singles matches over five seasons—the most overpowering stretch in history—and averaged 87 wins against fewer than three losses per year during that period.  She has more singles [167] and doubles [177] titles than any woman in history and is one of three players [Margaret Court, Doris Hart] to have accomplished a career “Boxed Set” slam [singles, doubles, mixed doubles].  Martina was ranked World No. 1 for 332 weeks in singles, a record 237 weeks in doubles, and is the only player in history to hold the top spot in both for over 200 weeks.

In 2006—one month shy of her 50th birthday—Martina won her final Grand Slam title in mixed doubles at the U.S. Open, 32 years after her first major title.  She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.  In 2005, Tennis magazine selected her as greatest female tennis player between 1965 and 2005, while Tennis Channel named her the second-greatest female tennis player of all time, behind Steffi Graf [Daily Dose, 10/2/15].

On this date in 1991, Martina Navratilova defeated top-ranked Monica Seles [Daily Dose, 3/11/16], in the California Virginia Slims final in Oakland for her 157th singles title to match Chris Evert for most of all time.  The 35-year-old Navratilova was more than twice the age of her opponent and would go on to win ten more career titles before retiring from singles competition in 1994.

“For the first time in my life I was able to see America without the filter of a Communist education, Communist propaganda.  And it felt right…I honestly believe I was born to be an American.” – Martina Navratilova, who became a U.S. citizen in 1981

Today’s Daily Dose question:  Who is the most dominant female tennis player of all time?