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Face to face with tennis legend Martina Navratilova

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WTA legend meet and greet

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova was in town recently to meet several local junior and former tennis players as well as TeamSG athletes. (Photo by Philip Au/ Sport Singapore)

“I was out of shape for a couple of years after I retired. I was skiing one time and after a couple of hours I had to stop. I was [thinking], this is stupid I finally have time to ski and I’m out of shape!”

Tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who was in Singapore yesterday addressing several local junior and former tennis players as well as TeamSG athletes, spoke passionately about the importance of staying fit and eating well.

Martina also gave a shout-out to SportCares, who will be part of a brand new weekly tennis programme for the girls. She encouraged them to look forward, to persevere and to excel – a philosophy Martina has lived throughout her entire career, one that spanned four decades.

Martina, the all-time leader in grand slam titles at 59, and the winning-est player in tennis history (with a singles win-loss record of 1982-86), is also the Health and Fitness ambassador for the American Association for Retired Persons (AARP), helping millions of people lead active healthy lives.

As part of her role, Martina took part in Dancing with the Stars, as a way to inspire people over 50 to get outside their comfort zone. For Martina, dancing in high heels in front of a crowd was about as far outside my comfort zone as she could get.

“I would feel more comfortable in outer space doing a space walk,” Martina said in a previous interview with Laureus.

But Martina, the natural athlete, could see the value of dancing as a means of keeping fit. During the meet-and-greet yesterday, she talked about the importance of doing different sports. 


Martina Navratilova

Martina shared the importance of doing different sports during the meet and greet session. (Photo by Philip Au/ Sport Singapore)

“Growing up I played tennis the most but I played games so it was playful,” Martina said. “And that was just tennis, I rode my bicycle, I walked, I ran, I played hockey, I skated in the winter, I swam in the summer, I played soccer, climbed trees, jumped over streams. I was cross training, I just didn’t know what it was.”

Martina also spoke about the importance of resting. “Work hard but you also need to rest hard,” Martina said. “Make sure you give your body the rest that it needs, because everybody needs to regenerate.”

The last question of the event was about eating well. As one of the very few players who have had an athletic career that spans four decades, it was a question Martina was well equipped to answer. 

WTA legend meet and greet

Participants of the meet and greet session having a laugh during the engaging session. (Photo by Philip Au/ Sport Singapore)

“You have to treat your body as a temple because what you put into it is what you get out. You have a sports car, you don’t put cheap gasoline in it. There is an apple and there is a fried apple, or one covered with chocolate. You know which one you should eat,” Martina said. “I just don’t like the way I feel after I eat lousy food. Like potato chips. If I eat three of them I fall asleep. That’s not giving me energy. So, I don’t even put them in my mouth, it’s not worth it.” 

WTA legend meet and greet

Martina posing for a group shot with the participants of the meet and greet session. (Photo by Philip Au/ Sport Singapore)

A flashback to Martina’s start in tennis, and her accomplishments shows she’s not just paying these words lip-service. She has lived and breathed this philosophy throughout her lustrous career.

Martina started playing tennis at the age of 5 using her grandmother’s racket, not on a tennis court but against a wall at home.

“I would pretend I was Rod Laver and Billie Jean King,” Martina recounted. “For two years I just played against the wall. My dad said when you can hold a racquet with one hand, I’ll play with you on court.”

She progressed quickly from there, winning the national championships in Czechoslovakia at the age of 15. She won her first grand slam title when she was 21 (Wimbledon, 1981) and her last when she was 49 (US Open, 2006).

She was world No. 1 in singles for a record 332 weeks, en route to her 18 grand slam singles titles.

It boils down to discipline.

“Keep your mind on your long-term goals, whatever your long term goal is,” Martina said. “Even without being an athlete, without being a tennis player, if you want to live a long time you have to get the most out of your body and treat it with respect.”

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