Few players in any era of the game were as dominant and prolific as Martina Navratilova.Not only her record in singles, but her women’s and mixed doubles records stand out as among the most impressive in history.She is widely considered one of the best women tennis players of all time.
Discussion on the topic of the best of all time revolves essentially around four players: Navratilova, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf and Serena Williams.One could also include in the discussion, Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills-Moody, but given the many advances in the game in recent decades, discussion is probably best limited to the open era. Agreeing on appropriate criteria and metrics and the relative weights one attaches to these, also makes this exercise fraught with subjectivity and the topic of ongoing debate.Let’s see how Navratilova shapes up.
Sifting through her many career achievements reveals so many gems.In a pro career lasting from 1975 to 2009, she managed to amass 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 women’s doubles titles and 10 mixed doubles – a staggering total of 59 Grand Slams, only surpassed by Margaret Court with 62. Her first Grand Slam title was the French Open women’s doubles in 1975 (aged 19) and her last was in the US Open mixed in 2006 (aged 49)– a staggering 31-year time span.For her longevity alone, Navratilova deserves an award!
Navratilova also shares with only two other women (Doris Hart and Margaret Court) the record of having won all four Grand Slams in singles, doubles and mixed.Unlike her great rival, Steffi Graf, she did not manage to win a singles One-Year Grand Slam or a ‘golden’ Grand Slam (including an Olympic gold), but did win a doubles One-Year Grand Slam in 1984.She does comfortably supersede Graf, however, in having won an all-time record 167 singles titles.
In her era, she dominated on the red clay of Roland Garros, the grass of Wimbledon and the hard courts of the Australian and US Opens.Her strong, competitive nature and her combination of serve/volley and baseline play made her the dominant force in the women’s game in the early and mid-1980’s.After the demise of Billie-Jean King in the 1970’s and the rise of Steffi Graf from 1987, Navratilova was the unassailable force in women’s tennis.The great singles’ rivals of her era were Chris Evert and later, Steffi Graf and towards the end of her career, Monica Seles.Her doubles partners included Pam Shriver, Billie-Jean King and Helene Sukova with whom she amassed an impressive total of titles.Her name is usually associated with Shriver, both of whom dominated the women’s doubles game in the 1980’s and with whom, Navratilova won that epic 1984 Grand Slam.
On her head-to-heads against her main singles’ rivals, the record stands as follows.Against Evert, she comes out on top 43-37 overall and also comes out on top in Grand Slam finals (10-4) and all Grand Slam matches (14-8).The only key metric in Evert’s favour was a dominance in their clay court encounters.Added to the head-to-heads, Navratilova’s impressive tally of career and Grand Slam titles also far surpasses Evert.Against Billie-Jean King, her record stands at 9-5.
Against Graf, the record stands at an intriguing 9-9, probably a fair metric all things considered.In Navratilova’s favour, she encountered Graf at or after her peak and as the German was beginning to ascend the world rankings.Graf comes out on top 4-2 in Grand Slam finals and Navratilova leads 5-4 in all Grand Slam matches.Graf may have had a more impressive haul of career Grand Slam singles titles, but was never able to match Navratilova in her doubles record.Monica Seles had a 10-7 advantage over Navratilova in their head-to-heads, but at the time, Martina was in her late 30’s and Seles a young budding star.Even allowing for the tragic shortening of Seles’ career, moreover, she was never able to amass the titles or accolades of the perennial Navratilova.
As well as her own personal achievements, Navratilova helped contribute to the growth in strength and popularity of the women’s game in an era when it was still very much in the shadow of the men’s game.Along with Chris Evert, Billie-Jean King and Pam Shriver, she was able to carve out a position of respect for women’s tennis and through her example on court, brought whole new audiences to the game.
She played the game with a strength and vigour rarely seen up until then in the women’s game.She also represented a strong tradition of Czech tennis (Drobny, Kodes, Mandlikova and Lendl) and at a time when American players dominated the women’s game, she laid down a marker for European tennis, a legacy that has borne fruit, particularly in recent years.Always strong-willed and an individualist, she took on many of the established traditions in the game, in the process achieving notable reforms.On this side of the Atlantic, she will be particularly remembered for her stellar record at Wimbledon.Dominating the singles’ event over so many years, her encounters with friend and rival, Chris Evert will be fondly remembered.Her record of 20 Wimbledon titles (singles, doubles and mixed) which she shares with King, secured her a lasting respect and affection from the British public. With her prolific singles and doubles records, she was one of the very best.