Tennis lovers have grown up seeing Martina Navratilova (57) in her tennis attire, stretching every sinew on court. But on Saturday, we saw a suited-booted Martina, in her avatar as corporate speaker for a bank in Mumbai.
She appeared far more gentle than what she portrayed on court, but spoke her mind nevertheless on an issue which contrasted the view of the Roger Federers, Novak Djokovics, Rafael Nadals and Andy Murrays of the tennis world: Scheduling. “The tennis calendar is a lot easier than what it used to be during the time I played,” said Martina, alongside her former mixed doubles partner and India tennis ace Leander Paes.
The current stars have been calling for a shorter calendar for some time now. Martina turned back the clock. “We used to play till December and the new season would then begin in January, so there was a window of just two-three weeks in between. But now, there is a much bigger opening, so I believe the calendar has made things much easier,” she stressed.
Further, contesting the claims of those tennis players who claim to be uncomfortable with the extensive travel that needs to be undertaken nowadays, the Czech said: “Travel has definitely increased because the sport is more international now. There’s a lot of foreign travel, but many players have diplomatic passports nowadays which makes traveling a lot more convenient. I’d be saying, ‘thank you very much’ because I would like to have one of those. Besides, players today fly first-class or business class compared to what we flew. They also live in much better hotels. So, I think playing tennis in the current scenario is a piece of cake. Only getting to the airplane may not be easy I think, but the rest is a piece of cake.”
A nod of appreciation from former mixed doubles partner Paes brought a smile to Martina’s face, probably reminding her of the joys of doubles tennis. She continued: “You and your partner can feel the joy and immediately share it. Doubles is more pressure because you’re not just playing for yourself, but when you do well, it’s great to be on the same plane emotionally as your partner. That’s why I cherish the times I’ve played alongside Leander.
“In fact, even with Chris (Evert) – we shared one of the greatest rivalries in singles, but at the end of every match, one of us would be happy, while the other would be sad. And that’s why I was so happy to play doubles with her. And when we won (1975 French Open & 1976 Wimbledon) it was great to finally share the same joy.
“The togetherness is what makes it special,” said the 18-time singles, 31-time doubles and 10-time mixed doubles Grand Slam title winner. The former World No 1 concluded with some words of encouragement for Paes. “Age will get in the way eventually but I feel Leander has at least one more Olympics in him. It’s just a matter of taking more time to take care of the body. And as long as he loves it and people want to watch him play there’s no reason for him to stop,” she said.