Widely considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time, Martina Navratilova amassed a record number of singles and doubles title wins, while becoming the greatest Grand Slam champion of all time. Born on Oct. 18, 1956 in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Navratilova was three years old when her parents divorced. Her mother remarried to Miroslav Navrátil, who became her first tennis coach. In 1972, she won the Czechoslovakian national championship at 15 years old and the following year debuted with the United States Lawn Tennis Association tour, but did not turn pro until she was 17. After winning her first pro title, she began appearing in Grand Slam tournaments, losing the finals of the Australian Open in 1975 and the French Open to career rival Chris Evert that same year. When she was 18, Navratilova defected from Czechoslovakia and received her green card. From there, she won her first of nine Wimbledon titles in 1978, defeating Evert in three sets and becoming the No.1 female tennis player in the world. She defended her title in 1979 and went on to capture other Grand Slam tournaments, winning her first of three Australian Opens in 1981, her first French Open in 1982, and her first U.S Open in 1983, defeating Evert in two of the three.
While she was impressive in singles competition, Navratilova reigned supreme in doubles matches, winning a whopping 177 career titles - a record in both men's and women's competitions. In 1984, she captured the French Open title, which prompted the International Tennis Federation to declare her accomplishment a Grand Slam, though some observers disputed the claim because her four major titles were not won in the same calendar year. Meanwhile, Navratilova saw younger competition emerge in the form of Stefi Graf, who defeated her in the French Open in 1987. That same year, Navratilova returned the favor at Wimbledon, winning her eighth title and tying the all-time record. In 1990, she claimed her ninth and record-breaking Wimbledon title, though it would be her last Grand Slam win. She reached the U.S. Open finals in 1991 and lost her chance to win a 10th Wimbledon title to Conchita Martinez in 1994. She soon retired from singles competition, though she continued playing doubles, and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000. Navratilova ended her career with a record 167 open titles, 177 doubles titles and the longest winning streak - 74 matches - in the open era.
Having long been open about her sexuality, Navratilova was actively involved in numerous gay rights causes, while also working with charities that helped protect animal rights and underprivileged children. She was unrelenting in her opposition to Communism and openly criticized her native country. Navratilova landed in a bit of hot water for comparing the United States of 2002 to Czechoslovakia, which was called out by CNN anchor Connie Chung; she also later declared she was ashamed of George W. Bush. Meanwhile, Navratilova settled nicely into retirement, writing a series of mystery novels, The Total Zone (1994), Breaking Point (1996) and Killer Instinct, while also sharing her views on health and fitness in Shape Your Self (2006). In April 2010, she was treated for breast cancer with surgery and radiation, from which the incredibly in-shape Navratilova quickly recovered, as evidenced by her being hospitalized for a pulmonary edema while climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. Navratilova even turned to reality television, starting with the British show "I'm a Celebrity.Get Me Out of Here!" (ITV, 2002- ), where she was a runner-up on series eight. In America, she joined the season 14 cast of "Dancing with the Stars" (ABC, 2005- ) in 2012.
By Shawn Dwyer