Martina Navratilova on Shaping Herself (Ep. 37 — Live at Mason)

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Martina Navratilova is one of the greatest tennis players of all time. No one has won more matches than her thanks to an astonishing 87 percent win rate over a long and dominant career.

In their conversation, she and Tyler cover her illustrious tennis career, her experience defecting from Czechoslovakia and later becoming a dual citizen, the wage gap in tennis competition and commentary, gender stereotypes in sports, her work regimen and training schedule, technological progress in tennis, her need for speed, journaling and constant self-improvement, some of her most shocking realizations about American life, the best way to see East Africa, her struggle to get her children to put the dishes in the dishwasher, and more.

Listen to the full conversation

Read the full transcript

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Thank you.

TYLER COWEN: Martina, we are greatly honored to have you here today.

NAVRATILOVA: Yes.

COWEN: You have won Wimbledon nine times, I believe.

NAVRATILOVA: Yep.

COWEN: And more astonishing yet, there are, I believe, 80 different events where you have won both the singles and the doubles of the same event.

NAVRATILOVA: Yes.

[applause]

NAVRATILOVA: Eighty-eight times. They just gave a million-dollar bonus last week in Indian Wells if a player could win both singles and doubles. They didn’t do that in my day, unfortunately.

[laughter]

On training and continuous self-improvement

COWEN: If we were to take your achievements, and rather than framing them as sports achievements and athletic — which, of course, they were — but to think of them in terms of both education — self-education — and management, how would you describe the approach that took you, by the early ’80s, to really being a completely dominant player?

You were a contender, and then you became completely dominant, say, by 1981. How did you do that? And what can you teach us about that process?

NAVRATILOVA: I didn’t graduate from high school, so I’m having a hard time understanding your question.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I’m just kidding. I left my country before I was able to graduate.

I think what happened was a seminal moment. I was friends with Nancy Lieberman, who is a basketball player, Hall of Famer. That spring, she traveled with me, and I had a bad spring. I lost the semifinals at the French Open. I lost the semifinals, both lead-up tournaments to Wimbledon and at Wimbledon.

I always said I would play until I’m 30 and then see. She said, “You know, your time’s running out, and, and you could work a lot harder.” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” I thought I worked pretty hard, but I didn’t have a coach for six years after I defected.

My dad was my coach, and I didn’t have a coach. I thought I worked hard enough, but then she introduced me to running suicides on the basketball court.

[laughter]

COWEN: Why did she register with you in a way earlier people hadn’t?

NAVRATILOVA: Fellow athlete, very capable athlete. She just said, “You know, you’re wasting your talent. You have so much more talent than what you’re putting out there.” I didn’t know any better. We started training that summer.

Then I knew a guy who was also a nutritionist. He helped me tailor my diet. It wasn’t to lose weight, but just to better quality food coming in. I weighed the same since about ’77, 147 pounds. I didn’t lose any weight, but I put on some muscle and lost some body fat and, most of all, got a coach. Dr. Renée Richards started coaching me. I was doing it on my own.

Everybody that lived here or other players, they would have a coach in their hometown. Chris Evert had her father. Did not travel, but when she goes home, she would have a coach. I would go home and I was alone.

In fact, just last week in Indian Wells, I saw a guy that I used to practice with every day when I was practicing in Dallas. I did not have a coach. It just didn’t occur to me get a full-time coach and Renée, just by accident, we started practicing together at the US Open.

COWEN: Building the team. It’s sometimes been called Team Navratilova. Did you do this self-consciously . . .

NAVRATILOVA: Not at all.

COWEN: . . . or it’s just something that evolved, bit by bit? Each piece seemed to work?

NAVRATILOVA: Totally.

COWEN: Then at the end, did you realize what you had done? What was the process ex post of looking back and reconstructing?

NAVRATILOVA: I just wanted to leave no stone unturned, really. The coach, obviously, was technique and tactics. The physical part was training, working very hard. I’ll give you my typical day in a minute. The eating was so that I could train hard and not get injured. So it all came together.

The typical day, then, when I really was humming was four hours of tennis, 10:00 to 2:00, two hours of drills and maybe two hours of sets. Then I would do some running drills on the court for 15, 20 minutes, sprints that if I did them now, I wouldn’t be able to walk the next day.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: You know, 15- to 30-second sprinting drills. Then we would eat lunch. Then I would go either play basketball full-court, two on two for an hour and a half or little man-big man. It’s two on one. I don’t know, those people that play basketball. You just run. You just run.

COWEN: Which one were you?

NAVRATILOVA: It switches. Whoever has the ball is the little man. No, whoever has the ball, it’s one against two. Then you play little man, the person plays defense, and then the big man plays center. It’s not two on one, it’s one against one and then one. Then whoever gets the ball goes the other way. It’s run, run, run.

Then I would lift weights and have dinner either before lifting weights or after. So it was a full day of training.

COWEN: What about 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M.?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: That was breakfast. If I didn’t play basketball, we’d go on the track and run, some days, 10 100-meter sprints, or 20 60-yard sprints. I would do four quarters. That was my least favorite.

I trained hard. I worked harder than I needed to, I think, but it worked.

COWEN: You’ve done other things in life. You’ve been very interested in woodworking. I’ve read that you learned Swahili.

NAVRATILOVA: [laughs] A little bit.

COWEN: You have a pilot’s license.

NAVRATILOVA: I did.

COWEN: You wrote three detective novels, played on a hockey team. You’re now having a role in raising two children. Have you used a training regime for all of those?

[laughter]

COWEN: Do you now think about getting things done this way?

NAVRATILOVA: The positive attitude helps. With tennis, you have to be very positive and have a very short memory.

COWEN: [laughs]

NAVRATILOVA: Long memory for the good stuff and short memory for the bad stuff because you have to play a point. In 20 seconds, you’ve got to get ready for the next point. You’ve got to analyze what happened and try to do it better, etc. But raising two kids is challenging. I’m going to say whatever training I’ve done is not enough.

[laughter]

COWEN: Billie Jean King once suggested that you use writing in a journal every day to help you accomplish your goals. How does that work for you? What is it you do? Why do you think it works?

NAVRATILOVA: It worked because it really centers you. It narrows it down, whatever long-term goal you have. It becomes more real and more current because it narrows it down in that, “What do you need to do today?” and “Did you accomplish that goal?” You have a big goal. You break it into smaller goals, into smaller goals, until you get into, “OK, what do I do today to get to that goal?”

You keep track. It’s easier to keep track. It’s always good to keep track, whether you’re playing points — keeping track that way — or just measure your progress or maybe regress some days. I would rate myself on a physical level, emotional, and mental — how I did today on a scale of 1 to 10. Some days were 10s, some days were 7s, some days were 3s.

Try to be honest with yourself. Be honest but also be nice to yourself. You see that with most champions, they’re perfectionists. You beat yourself up too much. I preach and I try to strive for excellence rather than perfection.

Try to be honest with yourself. Be honest but also be nice to yourself. You see that with most champions, they’re perfectionists. You beat yourself up too much. I preach and I try to strive for excellence rather than perfection.

If you strive for excellence, perfection may happen. [laughs] It’s good enough to be excellent. That’s good enough. You don’t need to be perfect because perfection just happens by accident.

COWEN: John McEnroe once reported that Björn Borg said that to him, I quote, “Number one is the only thing that matters.” That doesn’t seem to quite be your attitude. How do you think of your motivation in terms of the goal?

NAVRATILOVA: I wanted to be number one. I said that when I was 20 years old. I said since I was eight or nine years old, I wanted to win Wimbledon. At that point, you don’t know how big the world is and what that all means, but that was the goal. I just put it all out on the line. What was the question?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I forgot where I was going . . .

COWEN: Björn Borg saying, “Number one is the only thing that matters.” He may have been exaggerating himself. Do you ever feel you have that attitude that anything short of number one is a failure?

NAVRATILOVA: Not at all. Not at all. The only failure is to not try. For me, it was always giving my best, whatever it was that I was doing, whether it was riding the bicycle in my garden and trying to go as fast as I can and timing myself.

My first watch was a stopwatch when I was in third grade. I was always timing myself. I would try to go faster. I would back up, do a little turn, so I could make the turn faster, so I could go faster three times around.

Competing with myself, my competition was always with myself. I always said I would rather play well and lose than play lousy and win because if I played lousy and won, that just meant my opponent was really lousy.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I’d rather be pushed. That’s why I really enjoyed the competition against the best players because that’s when you have to put it on the line and play your best. Anything less won’t be good enough.

The number one kind of happened. That’s another line that I use. Everybody has that goal. Most players that play on the tour, they want to be number one. They want to win a major, but only one person can be number one. Does that make everybody else a failure? No. They’re trying their hardest.

If you try your best and the best that you can do, which we have the ranking. Obviously, it doesn’t lie. This is exactly where you stand. You could be 45 in the world or 5 in the world. If you tried your best and your best ranking ever was number 10, then the other nine players were better. But if the other nine people weren’t alive, you’d be number one.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: You’re still the same tennis player, right? You’re not any better. So for me, the competition was always with myself.

COWEN: Pam Shriver once said that she thought her doubles partnership with you worked so well precisely because the two of you had this creative interchange, but you didn’t spend much time together off the court. You saved that back-and-forth for when you were playing together. Does that make sense to you?

NAVRATILOVA: [laughs] We talked a lot, yes. We had to catch up on everything while we were playing the matches.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Nowadays, they all talk strategy. We’d do like, “OK, I serve wide, but what do you want to do for dinner?” or “Where did you go last night?” and “Where is your coach sitting?” We were visiting. “Can you believe that guy over there? You know, he’s not even watching us.” We were just talking smack, and we had fun.

On the particulars of tennis

COWEN: A few questions about women’s tennis in particular. If you think about Steffi Graf, Sabatini, Monica Seles, Hingis, yourself, do women in tennis develop more quickly in terms of age? If so, why is that the case?

NAVRATILOVA: Physically, yeah, women mature earlier, I think, emotionally and physically, but most of all physically. Nowadays, the game has gotten so much more physical it’s a little more tricky for people to play really great tennis at 14 or 15.

In the women’s game, we instituted an age eligibility rule, so you cannot play as many tournaments as you want until you’re 18. There is a limit to how many tournaments you can play at 14, at 15, etc. It goes up.

The biggest reason for that was we had too many injuries and too many people getting burned out because the parents had these big eyes for their kids. They’re pulling kids out of school too soon, and doing training and burning out physically or emotionally before they even get on the tour. Or, if they get on the tour, then the injuries come. We had too many people pulling out.

I think some of it is also they don’t make them like they used to.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: In the old days, seriously, I would come to a tournament and somebody would default. I’m like, “Oh, my God. Is she OK? Is she in the hospital?” [laughs] It was unusual for people to pull out. I think Chris pulled out of three events, ever. Same with me, three tournaments that I pulled out of.

COWEN: And you played a lot.

NAVRATILOVA: I played a lot of tournaments and a lot of matches. I don’t know how many singles I won, but I think I played something like 1,700 singles matches and, I don’t know, 1,100 doubles matches.

COWEN: What accounts for that change? Why are we moderns weaker, more complacent? However you might describe it, what’s happened to us?

NAVRATILOVA: Things are easier, there is no doubt. But also they’re lasting longer because things are easier. You have trainers now. When I came on the tour, I pulled a stomach muscle the very first tournament I played. It took two months before I got well again.

We got a trainer for the first time on the tour, 1975. I thought, “Oh, you get a massage.” No, no, no, this is a trainer. They actually tape your ankles and stuff. We were really clueless. We didn’t know. Nowadays, the care is much better, and the players last longer because of that.

We played on clay or grass, indoors on soft carpet, with wooden rackets, with animal gut for the strings. Now, they play on hard courts most of the time, with metal rackets, with nylon strings. So the body does not absorb that vibration from the racket. They use their wrists a lot more, so you have a lot more injuries on the upper body.

Playing on hard courts, you see them slide. I’m like, “I still don’t know how they do that.” Sliding on hard courts, it’s like, “Ohhh.” There’ll be a lot more hip replacements in the future because of that. I think the game is more physical, so they get more beat up. Everybody’s hitting the ball harder because of the rackets, etc.

COWEN: Some sports, it seems fairly easy to compare the past and the present. The 100-meter dash, how long did it take? There’s a very definite timing. If you’re thinking about tennis players, the best of today, the best of an earlier age — Althea Gibson or Evonne Goolagong, whoever it is you have in mind — do you think it’s even a meaningful comparison?

Or do you have some definite view, like, “We were better than they’ll ever be.” Or “They would take every set from us.” How do you think about that problem?

NAVRATILOVA: Me from 1990 would have beaten me from 1980, would have beaten me from 1973. You get better as you play. I would have beaten Althea Gibson. But if I had been born in Althea’s Gibson’s time and Althea Gibson was born 20 years later, she would be beating me because it’s the evolution of the sport.

Nowadays, especially with the rackets being so different, you can’t really compare. But if Evonne Goolagong was born now, she would still be winning majors. The same with the guys, you’re a product of your culture and of your time.

If Usain Bolt was born in 1930, I’m pretty sure he would not be running 9.2, whatever he’s running, 100 meters. It just wasn’t going to happen with those shoes, on those tracks. It’s a different ballgame.

COWEN: If you think about how men and women are divided in tennis, the current arrangement has a lot of advantages. It could be the case — I’m no expert in this area — that there are more than two genders. In track and field, you have Caster Semenya, where people argue, “Should she be allowed to compete in women’s track and field?”

There’s a lot of measurement that goes on. Arguably, it’s somewhat intrusive . . .

NAVRATILOVA: You think?

COWEN: . . . or just distasteful. How should we think about this problem and structure the rules going forward to have the best available arrangement?

NAVRATILOVA: You just try to take it case by case and make it as fair as possible for everybody involved. I’m not a doctor, so it’s hard to pin that one. You just try to make it fair. There is not any particular rule. If you go by that, then some guy may have a lot more testosterone than another guy. Is he banned because he has too much?

Where do you put the limits? Who decides where the limits are? You just take it case by case and try to make it a level playing field. With me, they were saying I have an advantage because I’m gay. [laughs] Somehow, a gay player hits the ball better than a straight player. I don’t know.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Still trying to figure that one out.

On the gender pay gap in tournaments

COWEN: Issues of pay equity. As you know, Australian, US, French opens, Wimbledon, Indian Wells, Miami — male and female prizes are the same at the top. But many other tournaments, male winners tend to receive quite a bit more than female winners. Is this, in your view, fair? Should it be changed? If so, how should we change it?

NAVRATILOVA: We are changing it a little bit at a time. Still, those tournaments are separate. The men still — most corporations are run by men, owned by men. They’re much more likely to give the money to the men than the women.

Whether it’s a bank or whatever the sponsor is, men have a much easier time getting the sponsorship money and don’t have to prove it. The women have to prove themselves, which is why most of the sponsors that have been involved in women’s tennis have stayed around a lot longer because we have to make sure that the money is judged correctly, that economically it makes sense.

How many false starts were there for the NFL, NBA, all of that? You have one false start in the women’s league, and it’s, “Oh, the women can’t make it.” But the guys, they keep throwing money at them.

It is still in different cultures. We still have tournaments in places where women can’t walk without a male escort. Times have changed, but not enough. It’s certainly going in the right direction, but the pay inequity is still there.

COWEN: Male and female tennis announcers, should they be paid the same?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I’m trending on Twitter today.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: My, “Yes!” claim to fame. You try to pay people equal amount for equal work, equal contribution, and equal level of expertise, and whatever championship quality you want to assign to that.

There’s this hoo-ha right now about me getting a lot less pay for the same work as John McEnroe at Wimbledon. The BBC is a publicly owned corporation, but they would not divulge what people are making.

Finally, they had to last year say how much people are making. Only people that are making £150,000 a year or more, anybody less than that, you don’t have to divulge.

A lot of the part-time people did not make the cut, but John McEnroe did make the cut. He gets at least £150,000 for Wimbledon, while I was getting paid about £12,000, £13,000 for less work — less work, yes — but about maybe one third.

It’s because I couldn’t get any more. I wanted to work more, but we were getting all kinds of excuses why I couldn’t get more, or other women weren’t getting paid as much as the men. I knew I was getting paid less, but I didn’t know how much less.

Then when I found out, when this report was made public, it was like OK, now this is not just percentage. This is a multiplier. There was a program that just went out tonight actually. It’s kind of the 60 Minutes in the UK, called Panorama. I did an interview there, so now there’s a big to-do about it.

It’s not between me and McEnroe. It’s not about that. It’s about women getting paid a lot less than men for a similar job. Maybe it’s because you get paid by the work. I’m trying to keep my answers really succinct.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Just saying.

COWEN: Here’s something Billie Jean King once said. I’m not sure, but I think she was referring to both men’s and women’s tennis. Quote: “I think tennis is a sexy sport, and that is good. The players are young, with excellent bodies, clothed in relatively little. It offers the healthiest, most appealing presentation of sex I can imagine, and we in sport must acknowledge that and use it to our advantage.” True or false?

NAVRATILOVA: She said that?

[laughter]

COWEN: It’s in print.

NAVRATILOVA: It doesn’t sound like Billie. I’d never heard her say that. It is a sexy sport, but I don’t think it’s because of the way we dress. It’s just because we’re really capable of hitting the tennis ball and doing things on the court that most people can’t.

COWEN: And it’s a cognitive endeavor, most of all.

French tennis player Suzanne Lenglen competing at Wimbledon, 1926. (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty)

NAVRATILOVA: It also makes sense to play tennis in shorts or shorter skirts rather than what Suzanne Lenglen used to have to put up with, with long dresses, etc. I think the form follows function, on the tennis court anyway. There’s nothing wrong with being sexy as long as it’s not sexist.

Guys get paid more if they’re good looking. They get more endorsements. Women, same thing, but then it becomes too disparate. That’s when it becomes a problem, when you have to be sexy in order to be paid the same. Ah, the guy doesn’t have to be sexy, right? Look at the TV people.

[laughter]

On gender stereotypes and tennis critiques

COWEN: Here’s a question from a reader, and I quote, “In her autobiography, Martina observed that US women, such as Chris Evert, had to conform to far more rigid gender stereotypes than Czech women like she did. Does Martina still believe that US gender stereotypes are a lot more constricting and universally imposed in America today than in, say, Central Europe?”

NAVRATILOVA: That’s a good question, but I said that a long time ago. That biography came out 30 years ago.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I really don’t remember what all I said. Once in a while I sign it, and I look inside. I’m like, “Oh my God. I can’t believe I said that. This is way too personal.”

The one thing growing up in a Communist country, perhaps the only good thing about it, was that it was OK to be a female athlete, or anything, really. There were women doctors, professors, very common. Not in the political scene — there was always guys, for some reason. But every other field, women were just as encouraged to go into that field as men.

The one thing growing up in a Communist country, perhaps the only good thing about it, was that it was OK to be a female athlete, or anything, really. There were women doctors, professors, very common. Not in the political scene — there was always guys, for some reason. But every other field, women were just as encouraged to go into that field as men.

There was no “Oh, you want to be an electrician? You have to be a man.” No, or a professor, whatever. It all worked. When somebody said doctor, you didn’t assume it was a man. Whereas it was an assumption here, I still make that mistake myself.

Being an athlete, I was encouraged to be an athlete, and to do to the best. It wasn’t like I had to be begging to be able to play tennis because it’s only for boys.

Same with the clothing — maybe we were weren’t dressing so sexy because there just wasn’t anything sexy to be bought there. You just went to the store and see what was available.

I think Chris was just conforming, not because of any preconceived ideas, but she came from a good Catholic family, and she wanted to please her parents. So it was more that than, I think, any American culture. It was actually more cultural within the family how you grew up.

COWEN: At the top level, why has US men’s tennis collapsed?

NAVRATILOVA: I don’t think it’s collapsed. I think we have 10 . . .

COWEN: But the last Grand Slam winner, who is it? Is it Andy Roddick? I don’t remember . . . a long time ago now.

NAVRATILOVA: I think it’s Andy. We’ve had a few in the finals, but right now, those new guys coming up — Reilly Opelka, who is like 6 foot 10, he is huge, and a huge serve, and a good, big talent. Taylor Fritz had a good tournament last week in Indian Wells. I actually used to play against his mother, Kathy May.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Jack Sock, he made the Masters. On a given day, they can beat anybody, but to win a major, that takes a lot. It always goes in ebbs and flows and fluctuations.

The biggest thing is that the rest of the world caught up. It’s not that we’re bad, it’s the rest of the world is better. It’s a lot more international. Tennis is a lot more global. The tennis ball doesn’t know where you’re from, does it?

On technological progress in tennis

COWEN: The NBA, the NFL, and Major League Baseball, they’ve all been revolutionized by analytics and statistics, but tennis so far, not that much as far as I can tell. You may know better. Is this coming to tennis? And if so, what kind of effect is it likely to have?

NAVRATILOVA: It’s there now. The knowledge is there. People are figuring out how to use it to their advantage. They have all kinds of statistics now. With the Hawk-Eye, when you play matches, they even have cameras on practice courts. You can measure how many revolutions per shot, where it landed, how many mistakes you made.

It can get too much, but you can certainly use it to your advantage to see where the weaknesses are. It’s very obvious where the strengths are with the opponents, etc. It would help in making game plans and all that.

You can analyze all you want, but ultimately, you just got to hit the damn ball and hit it well.

[laughter]

COWEN: Are the rules of tennis flawed in some way? Are games too long or competitions too long or too short? Is there too much or too little regulation of string and racket technology? Would you change the scoring system? Can you improve on what we have?

NAVRATILOVA: That’s a lot of questions.

[laughter]

COWEN: Other than the pay.

NAVRATILOVA: One question at a time, please. Regulations, absolutely, the rackets have taken over the sport, and the strings. The strings, when you put them on a microscope, they have these little teeth. They bite the balls so you can put a lot more spin on the ball, which makes it a lot easier to hit it.

The rackets, the sweet spot used to be about this big [small circle in the middle]. Now it’s this big [the entire face]. As long as you don’t hit the frame, you’re good to go, so it’s very forgiving. Everybody hits a much better ball, and it’s more difficult to come to the net because it’s easier to dip the ball with the spin, etc.

The racket manufacturers have really changed the sport too much in my mind. You don’t see as much variety because of the equipment really favoring the baselines, the ground strokes over volleys.

COWEN: Top players today, they don’t have to be as smart as in your time?

NAVRATILOVA: I don’t know. I haven’t measured their IQ.

COWEN: It sounds like more strength oriented and less cognitive.

NAVRATILOVA: Yes, it is. It can be. You can get by with lower tennis IQ. If you can power past people, you don’t have to hit around them, you go through them. The rackets are more forgiving. It’s like having much more horsepower. You just step on the gas, and off you go.

Technique is not as prevalent, and tactics, although now you find different parts of the court because of the strings, also because of the rackets, which makes it different. It’s just different. It’s not necessarily better or worse, but less variety, and that’s what I’m missing.

COWEN: Mixed doubles also seems less popular, right? Is that another example of declining interest in IQ?

NAVRATILOVA: There is so much more money in singles and so much interest in singles. Fewer players play singles and doubles. Also, because you win one major and your life is made. So you don’t concentrate so much on . . . You don’t want to make anything hamper that possibility, so people play less.

I played singles, doubles, and mixed a whole bunch of times. In fact, I probably played too much in my 30s. I should have played less, but I didn’t know any better, and I liked playing mixed. Maybe that’s one of my other big accomplishments. I won the triple at the US Open when I was 31. I won singles, doubles, and mixed.

One year at Wimbledon, in ’86, it rained so much that I only played two matches in the first week because it rained. Two singles, and then I played 17 matches the second week because I got to the finals of all three. I played two or three matches every single day.

Then the last one, we lost the doubles. Pam and I lost the doubles. We hadn’t lost a match in two years. We lost the final. I won the singles. Then Sunday, after winning the singles and losing doubles final, I played three. We were in the quarterfinals on the mixed doubles on Sunday. I was on the court for six hours because there was no tie break in the third set.

I won the first match in three sets. Then we played again semifinals in three sets. I think it was 23–21 in the third. [laughs] Then the final was three sets as well. So yeah, I was tired that day.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: That’s why people don’t play — because it takes too much energy. The game is more physical, and they don’t want to hamper anything. But I like playing tennis so much that I couldn’t see not playing doubles.

COWEN: If somehow tennis didn’t exist or you couldn’t have been a tennis player, but ended up in this country at a young enough age, what do you think would have been your career?

NAVRATILOVA: If sports or . . .

COWEN: Anything else but tennis.

NAVRATILOVA: I don’t know, anything but tennis . . .

COWEN: It can be hockey. It can be woodworking.

NAVRATILOVA: I play hockey. Woodworking? No, I don’t think that would have made that much money. I did woodworking. I still have 10 fingers. I did pretty well, made a couple of tables.

I wanted to be an architect or a builder. I think that’s why I got into woodworking. I wanted to create. If it was a sport, either a skier or a race-car driver. I like speed.

[laughter]

COWEN: If you look back on your whole career, your whole life, what question do you most frequently ask yourself that you would be willing to share with us?

NAVRATILOVA: I’ve been married now for three years, been with Julia almost 10 years. Her two daughters are 16 and 12. The question I ask myself most often these days is what can I say to them so that they will actually put the dishes in the dishwasher rather than just leave them in the sink?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I have not solved that riddle. I don’t know. Take away the iPhone? No, that doesn’t work. Driving privileges? No, I don’t know. I’ve run out. Being nice? Give money? I did that too. I paid them.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: That didn’t work, either. Anybody, any suggestions?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: The dishwasher’s here and the sink is here. It’s not like it’s a long trip, you know? I come from a home where we didn’t have hot water till I was about 12 years old. We had to heat up the water to wash the dishes, to heat up the big thing to take a bath once a week.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Took sponge baths. That’s all you had, where you had to heat up the water to wash the dishes. My mom washed the dishes, and I dried them every night. Anyway, what can I do?

On LGBTQ rights

COWEN: Some questions about gay rights. How can we incentivize other celebrities, athletes to come out of the closet more? Because there’s been a huge positive external benefit from what you’ve done. Many, many people’s lives are much better off and freer and have more dignity. It seems highly likely there are many more gay people in sports who are unwilling to come out of the closet even now.

NAVRATILOVA: Didn’t you see the Olympics? Adam Rippon?

COWEN: The Olympics, but major league sports, it’s quite rare.

NAVRATILOVA: It depends on what sport you’re in. It’s almost like if you’re a figure skater, you have to prove that you’re straight if you’re a man.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: If you’re a softball player as a woman, you have to prove that you’re straight. It depends on the sport.

But it’s difficult in team sports because if the coach is in any shape homophobic, you don’t get to play. You don’t get to compete.

There was . . . I forget her name now. She played for Penn State, coach. Anybody can help me? She was a coach there. Rene Portland. She openly said, “I will not allow a lesbian on my team.” This was back in the ’80s, and proudly proclaimed to her parents that there are no lesbians on the team when she was recruiting her players.

So do you come out? You don’t get to play. It’s difficult in team sports or professional sports, same thing. You would get blackballed by the league if you do the unpopular thing. It’s OK now. It’s better.

COWEN: Say you’re starting in the NBA. You’re a good player. You have a proven record. Very few people in that position have come out. Do you think it’s about endorsements or commercial factors or fandom? Because they’re not going to bench you the minute after you say . . .

NAVRATILOVA: It’s privacy. It’s your teammates. Some may know. Some may not. I know professional team sports, there’s definitely a lot of players out there that their teammates know. But it’s still a taboo, and it’s uncomfortable. It attracts attention in a way that these macho sports don’t want.

Even on the tennis tour, I was lucky that I could come out because I knew I could still play tennis no matter what happened. Endorsements, I didn’t care. I lost a lot of money, but I just wanted to play tennis and be true to myself. I knew I could still play no matter what. The ranking is this — you get to play.

Even on the tennis tour, I was lucky that I could come out because I knew I could still play tennis no matter what happened. Endorsements, I didn’t care. I lost a lot of money, but I just wanted to play tennis and be true to myself. I knew I could still play no matter what.

But on team sports, it’s tricky. I get that, that it’s difficult, especially for men. On the men’s tour, the guys are so far in the closet I don’t even know who they are.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: It’s disappointing because the women are much more brave on that front. I don’t know why actually.

On being Czech

COWEN: You were born in Czechoslovakia, what’s now the Czech Republic. Do you follow Czech politics still at all?

NAVRATILOVA: Yes, unfortunately.

COWEN: Why do you think something seems to have gone wrong? Do you think it’s something about the Communist heritage of what is now Czech Republic that prevents it from being this perfect fit into the European Union? What’s your diagnosis?

NAVRATILOVA: It’s a great country to live in, but the politics have gone slightly downhill. I think people have a short memory. There are too many people still pining for the good old Communist days, as if there was anything good about it. A former Communist, Zeman, was reelected president again, or prime minister — whatever he is now. It’s frustrating.

It’s still a great place to be and a democratic country. I think overall it’s done really well. But it’s frustrating to me to see the right-wing politics winning so much these days, and authoritarians winning the elections.

COWEN: How did you think about the split with Slovakia when that came?

NAVRATILOVA: I think they would rather take it back if they could. But it was peaceful. It was done nicely. Nobody died. There was no violence at all. It was just people voted for it. That was that. It’s a shame, but that’s what happened.

COWEN: Say Czech writers, Milan Kundera or Hašek, do you still read them, identify with them, follow them? Or are you just fully in an American life but with a Czech background?

NAVRATILOVA: I’m both. I feel very much at home here. I’m a total American, but I still feel at home when I go to Czech Republic. My sister lives there, and it’s where I grew up. The town is the same. There’s still no traffic lights there. It hasn’t changed. I feel very much at home both places. I must say if Czechs play Americans in hockey, I root for the Czechs.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Ashamed to say that, maybe still also rooting for the underdog, the smaller country. We’re a country of I think 10, 12 million people.

COWEN: There’s Ivan Lendl, Martina Hingis’s mother, yourself — all from Czech Republic. Why so much tennis talent from your country?

NAVRATILOVA: That was about the only sport we could play there. For me, it was the availability of playing because we had a club in my hometown. It was the opportunity. I had good coaching. It was a sport that I loved. Ivan Lendl was from a tennis family. Martina, tennis family, it was passed generation to generation.

Also the club scene is very healthy. Czechs are pretty athletic anyway and active. But most of all, the clubs are set up where you walk to the club in your hometown. It’s very safe, so you walk. You can stay there all day on the weekend. Or after school, you go straight to tennis and play. Then you come home before dark. It’s just a nice scene. And it’s cheap, so you don’t have to be wealthy to make it.

You have good coaching and people to play with. I played against all the people. Whatever my level was, I played against those people. It wasn’t I only played against girls my age. I played whoever I could compete against. That breeds, I think, good players.

COWEN: In your memoir, you wrote the following, and I quote: “Charlottesville reminded me of my part of Czechoslovakia.” Please explain.

NAVRATILOVA: You mean last summer Charlottesville?

COWEN: No, living in Charlottesville.

NAVRATILOVA: Oh, living in Charlottesville. Well, it’s Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s the same climate and same countryside, very similar to where I grew up and very comfortable.

COWEN: Emotionally, what was it like to regain your Czech citizenship?

NAVRATILOVA: I waited for that. I don’t know why I waited. You had to get so much paperwork done. I finally get it organized, and I send it. I don’t get anything back. I finally called. They didn’t get the paperwork. I’m like, “Oh, I have to start over again.”

Two years later, I finally got to it. It happened that I got it after Obama became president, not under George W. Bush. People are saying I did it on purpose because I didn’t want to be an American anymore because of George W. Bush. It had nothing to do with it. I just wasn’t organized enough to get all the paperwork done.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: So I have two passports. It’s nice to feel like you belong to both countries.

Because when I defected, the reason I defected was you couldn’t get visa unless the government allowed you to get visa. They wouldn’t let me play the US Open, so I defected.

Then for six years, I was stateless. I had a thing that said reentry permit. It looked like a passport, but it says reentry permit. I had to get visa every single place I went. When you’re filling out the paperwork, it says country of citizenship. I had to put stateless.

Finally in ’81 when I got my citizenship, USA, and I got my passport. The next day, I’m flying to Europe. They said, “Do you have a passport?” I’m like, “Do I have a passport?”

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I still remember that moment. I was so proud. Now I have two passports. It’s very cool.

On living in America

COWEN: What was your biggest shock when you came here as a defector?

NAVRATILOVA: I came here in ’73. Then I defected in ’75. When I first came here in ’73?

COWEN: Yes.

NAVRATILOVA: I’ve seen American cars before in Germany but still the size of American cars. They’re still astonished when you see an old Cadillac El Dorado. It’s like four feet longer than a SUV, just huge.

But what astonished me the most was that there were oranges. The first tournament I played was in Fort Lauderdale. There was oranges on the trees. You could just pick them off the tree.

Growing up, we had oranges once a year for maybe two weeks. For Christmas, you had oranges. It was the most precious thing you could eat. It was more expensive than beef, and here you could just pick it off the tree.

I picked up a coconut. Took me about three hours to get inside it, but I ate the inside of a coconut.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: The size of ham on a sandwich because growing up, again, pork was very expensive. You had bread and maybe one slice of ham. I would eat around it, so I’ve got a big chunk of ham on the last bite.

Here you get a ham sandwich. It’s two pieces of bread and this much ham. It’s like, oh my god, this is amazing — $2.50 for a ham sandwich, still remember it. For me, that was astonishing — grocery stores, astonishing.

COWEN: What bugged you the most the early years?

NAVRATILOVA: What bothered me the most?

COWEN: Yeah.

NAVRATILOVA: Probably not being able to talk to my family.

COWEN: About this country. Obviously you missed friends, family, but about America.

NAVRATILOVA: Then nothing. Things were great. It was Watergate, which I’m like, “Where is this place of Watergate?”

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: It was the big thing, ’73. I did not understand that. Politics seemed to be very reasonable. People are nice and welcoming. When I defected, I was welcomed with open arms in Texas. I had everything. So back then, nothing.

COWEN: What was it like to go skiing with Donald Trump?

NAVRATILOVA: [laughs] His wife was a lot faster skier than he was.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I knew Ivanka before she even met Donald Trump because she’s Czech. She was a friend of a good Czech friend of mine. I met her in New York back in the ’70s. I skied with them a couple times in Aspen, with the family.

COWEN: Played tennis with them ever?

NAVRATILOVA: No. Have you seen . . .?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: That is a classic photo of him hitting a forehand volley. Oh, it’s a thing of beauty.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: It’s like, “Really? You wear those shorts? OK.”

COWEN: In some ways, you’ve been critical of the Trump presidency.

NAVRATILOVA: Some ways?

[laughter]

COWEN: Some ways. If you think about structurally, how did America get into its current problems? What’s your explanation?

NAVRATILOVA: Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, bots. It was a perfect storm, or a horrible storm for Clinton. There’s no doubt about that. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, but still you thought somehow . . .

We knew about the Electoral College. I think that system needs to be looked at. It’s not working. If I lived in Hawaii, I would be really pissed because my vote doesn’t count because by then, the election’s decided. It should really be one person, one vote, regardless of where you live. I don’t know why geography makes a difference.

I’m for state rights up to a point because if you do something here, you’re OK. If you do the same thing here, you’re a criminal. I just don’t get that. How can it be so disparate, so different from state to state? Particularly now with legal marijuana, etc., or crossing state lines with liquor in your car, it just doesn’t make sense.

Anyway, I’m not an authoritarian at all, obviously, but I think the federal government needs to be more responsible for what’s going on in our country. There’s too many things that are unfair in this country. It could be so much better.

How did it all happen? I think you see the statistics. You get frustrated because it doesn’t make any sense for so many women still to be voting that way. People just don’t pay enough attention to facts.

COWEN: If I talk to a lot of Eastern European or Communist èmigrès — Garry Kasparov, Masha Gessen — I get the sense that they view what’s happening in America now through the lens of their history . . .

NAVRATILOVA: Fifty years later.

COWEN: . . . and a history of fascism and authoritarianism.

I was born in the United States. When I look at what’s happening now, I tend to view it more as recreating a version of late 19th-century politics, where things are very partisan and wild, and leaders make different kinds of irresponsible decisions or have strange rhetoric by, say, the standards of the ’80s or the ’90s.

How convinced are you that that kind of Eastern European authoritarian lens is the right way to think about what’s happening in America today?

NAVRATILOVA: Because that’s how Trump got elected. It is very similar to that. I don’t understand this fear. We’re supposed to be land of the brave. Free, yes? Brave? But fear is what drives people to make these decisions.

I had therapy long time ago. The therapist said, “You don’t ever make decisions based on fear because you make wrong decisions.” But that’s how people are voting, based on fear so much.

I don’t know what we’re afraid of because nothing bad has really happened in this country since the Civil War. You really think about it. Pearl Harbor, yes, horrible, awful, but compare that to what went on in China, Communist countries, of course all the wars in Europe, World War I, World War II, Korean War. Compare that to that and there’s no comparison.

We have not really been touched, yet we’re so scared here. Of what? I don’t understand that. It’s like this manufactured fear. Then people are just blind. They make these decisions on emotions rather than rational thinking.

On what Martina Navratilova is doing next

COWEN: What’s your ideal trip to Africa? Describe that for us and why it appeals to you.

NAVRATILOVA: Oh gosh. I spent a lot of time in Kenya and also been in Tanzania, Ngorongoro Crater. I have traveled all around Kenya. Just anywhere, just drive. Just take a car and drive. That’s actually why I learned I fly. Maybe not drive. It’s safer to fly in Kenya than to drive. The roads are pretty bad.

It’s magic. Anybody that wants to go to Africa, do it. Don’t think about it. It’s amazing. The people are fantastic and the animals. It’s just magic.

COWEN: Two final questions. First . . .

NAVRATILOVA: I’m going back in time.

COWEN: What can you share with us about what you’re planning on doing next with your energy, your organizational, managerial, and educational abilities?

NAVRATILOVA: [laughs]

COWEN: Plus your athleticism.

NAVRATILOVA: Maybe get a GED.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I’m helping my kids with their homework. I think I could pass, but I don’t know. Seriously, I do a lot of speaking. I do speeches around the world on women’s issues, LGBT. Still being an activist, I’m going to march on Saturday in Miami.

[applause]

NAVRATILOVA: I can’t come to Washington, but I’ll be marching in Miami. Actually, we live about 10 minutes from Parkland so it really hit home as my daughter, her friends were wondering whether their friends were impacted — of course, everybody was impacted — but if people got hurt.

I think just keep being an activist, keep speaking out for the right things. I’ve always been a proponent for the little guy, always defending the little kid against the bullies. I’ll keep doing that because that’s just who I am. I can’t help it.

COWEN: Final question before we get to audience Q&A, to the extent you are still optimistic about the United States . . .

NAVRATILOVA: Absolutely.

COWEN: . . . what is it that most makes you optimistic?

NAVRATILOVA: Our institutions. I think the people are waking up. I think we slid into complacency and being comfortable, almost lazy, as nothing bad is going to happen. Little by little, that frog is going to get boiled in that water. I think a lot of people are starting to jump out of the water now. I think people are waking up and getting involved.

Most of all, the young ones. Again, maybe Parkland might be the tipping point for a horrible reason, but in a good way now that the young kids are realizing that we don’t want the old people to decide what our lives will look like 20 years from now or 30 years from now or what they look like now, actually. I think I’m optimistic because of the young ones.

COWEN: Martina, thank you very much.

[applause]

Q&A

NAVRATILOVA: Tyler, you need to drink more water. You’re not hydrating at all.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: That’s the athlete in me.

COWEN: We will take questions at two mics. I will alternate. Please note these are questions. We are here to hear from Martina. If you start making a speech, I will cut you off. She of course has the option of not answering any question she doesn’t want to.

NAVRATILOVA: Challenge.

COWEN: Please form a line at the mic.

NAVRATILOVA: Is there a line? Anybody want to ask questions? I talked to the tennis team before I got here, so they’re out of questions.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi Martina.

NAVRATILOVA: Hello.

COWEN: Yes, question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I just wanted to say it’s an honor to meet you and listen to your speech. You’re awesome.

NAVRATILOVA: Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you George Mason for having us.

Question going back to the big news today and recently about the pay gap and Wimbledon, my thought and, I guess, my question to you is, moving forward this year and from now on, will you not do any commentary either with BBC or here in the United States unless it’s guaranteed that the pay gap between you and someone like John McEnroe will be completely decreased?

NAVRATILOVA: Again, it’s not about me and John McEnroe. It’s about what women should be getting paid compared to men. I think transparency is the biggest reason why we don’t have equal pay or closer to it, certainly because people don’t know what anybody else is making.

I said I would work for BBC for free. That’s the only game in town. I really wanted to work. I wanted to speak to people in England. Wimbledon has been always broadcast by BBC ever since there was TV. It’s always been BBC, so it’s the only game in town. When they tell you this is all there is, you take it.

I would probably work rather for free than get paid one-tenth, quite frankly, because it’s not about the money. It’s about what’s fair. I don’t have that problem with Tennis Channel. I don’t have a problem there. I think they’re very fair. Same with BT Sport, I also do some work with them.

I haven’t, quite frankly, known that it was this disparate. I think it’s across the board for the other athletes whether it’s Lindsay Davenport compared to what Andy Roddick’s making or Tracy Austin compared to Tim Henman or whatever.

However you want to put it, the pay gap is huge. It’s a lot bigger than we even thought, and it needs to stop. Maybe tennis will be another push forward in the right direction. It’s not about how much we’re getting paid. It’s about getting paid fairly compared to other people.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi Martina.

NAVRATILOVA: Hi.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thanks so much for coming. It’s been a pleasure to hear your comments.

NAVRATILOVA: Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have a very practical question, and it deals with nutrition and your feelings about nutrition. Would you be able to reveal your diet?

NAVRATILOVA: Ah.

COWEN: [laughs]

NAVRATILOVA: It’s interesting because I’ve . . . I don’t even want to start. Yes, I’ll tell you. Just the last six weeks, I started this diet called Whole30 because I was too used to having a drink every night, or two.

My stomach got a little bit bigger. And I’ve been eating less, but I still couldn’t shake it. I’m fit. I’m in good shape and everything, but I was just ticked off. Most of all, I didn’t want to get into a habit of drinking.

I’ve been eating healthy since ’81, when I really got into nutrition, but I still couldn’t shake it. So this Whole30 is no dairy, no alcohol, and no grains, which means that’s no sugar. Grains is sugar. I mostly did it just to see what I feel like, and I’ve had much better energy. I also cut out coffee, which I didn’t need to.

I’ve been a much, much happier camper, and the weight came off without even looking at the scale — my pants all of a sudden, like, “Oh, they’re falling off.” I feel much, much better. That’s it, mostly proteins and nuts, lots of nuts, avocados, and eggs, and lots of veggies. No grains. Grain is sugar. Just realize how much pasta is just a filler.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have two totally disconnected questions. Quick ones though. I was wondering what your opinion was of the Billie Jean King movie with Bobby Riggs. My other question is, what was your favorite place to eat in Charlottesville?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I don’t remember the Charlottesville question because that was 30, almost 40 years ago. That’s a while back.

The Bobby Riggs, [laughs] the movie, I was not in the country because it was in ’73. I had just had to leave to go back to Czechoslovakia because my visa ran out. I did not go to Houston but just read about it in the paper. I never watched the actual match.

I was invited to these premieres when they were starting them at Wimbledon and the US Open last year, but I couldn’t make it. I was working or whatever.

Ironically, I finally said, “OK, I’m going to watch it on the plane back from Melbourne” because that’s when I catch up on all of my movies, catch up on the long flights. Guess who’s on the flight? Billie Jean.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: She was sitting over there with her girlfriend and behind me is Venus Williams, and then John McEnroe was there as well. I think he flew first. We were in business.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I’m kidding. I don’t know.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I don’t know, actually. I didn’t realize John was on the plane as well. Anyways, I watched the movie. They took some liberties, but it was well done, very well done. I thought Emma [Stone] and Steve Carell were fantastic.

COWEN: What’s the best tennis movie, if I may interject, your favorite tennis movie?

NAVRATILOVA: Well, that one was good. I think this one probably would have been the best. Also, it had very much a social message. I think the tennis was the best in this one from the tennis movies that I’ve seen.

COWEN: Next question.

NAVRATILOVA: I’m going to borrow some of your water.

COWEN: Sure.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’m curious hearing what trends you’ve seen in tennis doubles strategy over the last 10 years, what you see coming up? For example, it seems like players are clogging the middle a lot more now and leaving open the shot up the line.

NAVRATILOVA: Well, the biggest thing in doubles is cover the middle. People cover the line too much, and you may get passed once or twice down the line, but you will get 15 balls go through the middle. You can always blame it on your partner, right?

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: “So, it was your shot.” But if it’s down your line, everybody’s embarrassed because it’s my line. So people guard the line with their life, and they leave the middle too open in regular doubles.

Professional doubles, they’re better at covering the middle. But it’s less serve and volley. People are serving and staying back, again, because the rackets make it so much easier to hit those ground strokes. You see longer rallies, some fun doubles.

But I’ll go for the old-style serve and volley. Yeah, serve and volley still works if you do it well enough.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I guess one justification for a different pay scale for men and women in the tournaments is the difference in games they play for finals, three games for women, five for the men. Could you comment on that?

NAVRATILOVA: Three out of five sets. Yes, they do that in every round. They’ve been doing that forever at Wimbledon. Then the other slams caught up. Then some men’s tournaments were three-out-of-five finals, but the rest of it was two out of three.

Then they realized it just takes too much out of them. So all the tournaments now are two out of three except in the Grand Slams, and that’s three out of five.

Women — they were holding that against us, actually, when we asked for equal prize money. They said, “Oh, but you only play two out of three, and men play three out of five.” And we said, “We’ll play three out of five.” “Oh no, no, no, no. We don’t want you to do that.”

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: So there’s that. We offered. I think the men should play two out of three, but that’s just me. That’s another story.

Also, they found that until they slowed down the grass at Wimbledon, which was the last tournament that finally gave us equal prize money, the ball was in play longer in the women’s matches — in two-out-of-three-set matches — than the men’s matches, three out of five. But you don’t get paid for quantity, you get paid for quality.

Actually they did studies. Most people came to Wimbledon — they’ve done questionnaires — most people came to watch men, but then when they were leaving, they actually enjoyed watching the women more than the men.

It depends on who you watched that day, whatever. But the whole point is that we contribute equally to the success of the tournament. We’re willing to play three out of five, but they didn’t want us to do that. It’s silly. I think the men should play two out of three. Because both men and women play, they should be paid the same. End of story. It’s the right thing to do, by the way.

[applause]

NAVRATILOVA: They were using that with the McEnroe also, that he does longer matches. He does women’s matches. I wanted to do the women’s final, but he’s doing the women’s final. You don’t get paid because you talk longer or whatever.

I’m willing to do men’s matches, but they don’t let me. [laughs] So there’s that. On Tennis Channel I’ve done a bunch of men’s matches and it’s a lot of fun.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: This is another tennis question. I noticed a lot of the analysts will attribute a lot of thinking in the court when there’s a shot that is a successful winner — like he said, “Instead of going down the line, he obviously went across the court and thought very carefully about that shot” — when often, it seems to me, they’re just hitting the damn ball, as you say. When you’re out there playing, how much of it is the thought process as opposed to just hitting the damn ball?

NAVRATILOVA: It’s both. But you have to think very quickly because it happens in a split second, doesn’t it? I always said it’s better to hit the wrong shot well than hit the right shot badly because if you overthink it, at the end, you may hit the right shot, but by then you’re like, “Ahhh, maybe I should hit it over there.”

Just go with your instinct and you play percentages. You have a strategy. If it works, you don’t change it. If you’re losing, then you change it. Maybe you go down the line, down the line, down the line. Finally they cover it, so now you go crosscourt next time they cover it. It’s always cat and mouse with your opponent. That’s the fun part.

Sometimes, it’s easy to overanalyze. As I said, better to hit the wrong shot well than hit the right shot badly. I think that sometimes they’re just talking out of their ear.

[laughter]

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. Thank you for being here today.

NAVRATILOVA: Thanks.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I watched you when I was a kid and a teenager. Watching you play was just a huge thrill, so I appreciate it.

NAVRATILOVA: Thank you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I was going to ask a tennis question, but I’ll switch it. Gay rights, there’s been, obviously, enormous progress, and sometimes pulling backwards.

I wanted to hear what you thought about in these times, what you think are the real battlegrounds that people should be fighting now.

NAVRATILOVA: Yeah, I mean, states’ rights. Michelangelo Signorile, who’s a gay rights activist and a TV and radio personality, actually wrote a book about it. He thought once we got the right to marry, everybody was celebrating.

He says, “Just watch. There’s going to be so much backlash, and so many state laws are going to come up where they will try to roll back what we had just won.” And that’s exactly what’s been happening.

So you just be alert and pay attention to what’s going on in your state, in your county, in your district, whatever, and fight those battles one by one. It’s a shame that we still have to do that.

That’s why I wish the federal government would step up and just make it against the law to make these regulations. But they’re going the wrong way. They’re going the other way on that, and certainly, Trump has not been helpful in that regard at all. That’s an understatement.

Yeah, he held that rainbow flag during one of the rallies, but he didn’t know it was upside down.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: He says, “I’ll be the biggest friend to the LGBT community.” Yeah, with friends like that . . .

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: You run the other way. Just pay attention and get involved on a local level. Change comes from the grassroots. It should come from the top down. It’s much quicker for it to happen from the top down, but these days, we have to do it from the bottom up. So just stay vigilant and stay involved. And vote, vote, vote, vote.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Thank you. My question is about basketball. I met you and Nancy Lieberman at Old Dominion University . . .

NAVRATILOVA: Uh-huh, ODU.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: . . . up in the clubhouse level at a basketball game one time. It was a thrill to meet you all then.

Did you play basketball in Czechoslovakia? When you came to the United States, I’m thinking . . .

NAVRATILOVA: I did not.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: OK, you did not. Did you start when you met Nancy?

NAVRATILOVA: Yes, Nancy taught me how to do a layup, yes.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: I started from scratch.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What did you like about it? What did it do for you for tennis?

NAVRATILOVA: Fitness, obviously. It’s a very similar movement, and just being on a team rather than by yourself. It was a completely different sport. I also sprained my ankle a few times playing basketball. But the pluses were outweighing the possibility of minuses, of getting hurt, loved the competition.

Two on two or three on three, full court — that was my favorite. You just run and play and shoot and go the other way. Then the combination of finesse, and also, I’m a bit of a mutt in that I shoot lefty, but I do a better layup right-handed because it’s like a toss on the serve. I dribble better with my right hand, and I move better to my right, but I shoot left, so I was confusing for people.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Because I was in good shape I ran a lot, so they wanted to be on my team because two on two or three on three, it really pays off to be in good shape. Anyway, I love the sport. I think it’s a great game.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I have a quick question. I also watched you as a kid, and it’s been great to listen to you today. Just one little side thing — I’m a high school coach around here for tennis. I am thinking, after hearing your fitness regimen, that I’ve been a little too light on my kids.

[laughter]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: My question is really quick, and it’s personal, so you may not want to answer it, but your kids, do they play tennis?

NAVRATILOVA: They don’t love it. They play, but they don’t love it, which is fine with me. My wife wanted them to be tennis players. I’ve had somebody else work with them. I work with them sometimes, but they don’t love it, and that’s OK.

The older one likes to sing, the younger one likes to dance. That’s OK. The younger one’s walking around in ballet slippers on her tiptoes. She can’t wait for her ballet practice. That’s when you know. When she asks me to play tennis, twice a year, I’ll play with her.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: But I don’t push it. Physical fitness, if you don’t get to the ball you can’t hit it so well. When you get tired, you start making bad decisions, which goes for real life too, which is why it’s always important to take good care of yourself, period.

COWEN: Next question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Hi. I came out in 1976 and cried when you did. Thank you.

NAVRATILOVA: Thank you.

[applause]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The second factor is, lifelong tennis fan. There is so much beauty in your serve-and-volley game, and I know that you’re still playing some legends matches. There’s such a dearth of high-quality video of you playing that I wish that we could encourage someone to get out there and film you even now.

NAVRATILOVA: No, it’s better to go through the archives . . .

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: . . . and find the old ones because I still serve and volley. It just takes me a little while longer to get to the net. I kind of mosey on down. [laughs]

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I saw one film, and there’s so much of your game you still have.

NAVRATILOVA: Thank you. The hands are still there. The eyes are still there, but the legs . . . eh. But I don’t practice it. I don’t practice fast-twitch. The fast-twitch is gone because I just can’t get myself fired up. But thank you.

But yeah, it’s a shame that so many matches were not captured. Nowadays you can watch the players play just about every match they play, especially the top ones. It’s always somewhere.

I come from the days where the VHS didn’t even exist. First time I saw myself actually hit a ball in a video, I think I was about 16 years old. I remember looking at photos of other players and flipping it so I could see what they looked like left-handed . . .

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: . . . so I could compare myself. Or I would mirror myself in the mirror so I could see what I looked like right-handed and then compare it to the other players. Because you have an image. And being a lefty, I didn’t see that.

There’s some stuff on YouTube. I think you can catch enough. The quality of the video is not that good. Watching Wimbledon on TV on our black-and-white grainy screen that was this big, you only knew that the ball was there because the players moved that way.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: You couldn’t actually see the ball. [laughs] Now they have Hawk-Eye. I’m like, “God, I wish they had that in my day.” I would have won a few more matches and wouldn’t have to color my hair because I got a lot of gray hairs from those bad line calls.

[laughter]

NAVRATILOVA: Nowadays there’s no stress. There is no stress about line calls. It’s fantastic.

COWEN: Two more questions. Yes.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Martina, thank you so much for being here.

NAVRATILOVA: Thanks.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What’s the best advice anyone ever gave you about processing a poor performance after a match?

NAVRATILOVA: It goes back to what happened — just breaking down why I lost. Was it just a bad day or did I not prepare properly? Something broke down technically? Was it tactics? Did I get tired? Did I not sleep well?

There’s no great advice. It’s just figuring out the problem and then figuring a solution to it, always staying in the solution. “This is what we’re going to work on so that it doesn’t happen again.” You just try to minimize those possibilities and keep trying to get better.

COWEN: Last question.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: What is your opinion of PEDs, performing-enhancing drugs, as far as drug testing in tennis and other professional sports?

NAVRATILOVA: I think they do a pretty good job in tennis. They even take blood sometimes. They don’t just wait up after the player’s out of the tournament. They test pretty rigorously, and they do out-of-competition testing as well, so you have to give them a schedule. It’s pretty intense.

I think for tennis, certainly, there are drugs that would be helpful, but it’s such a complex sport that a drug for, for example, bicycling — it’s all about endurance. It’s very specific. For tennis, it’s much more than just that. There are certainly drugs that would be helpful and they’re trying to do their best.

Usually, there are people that are still ahead of the game in that regard. We try to do the best that we can. It can certainly be better. But if people really want to cheat, I think they can still do that, unfortunately. I’m very much against it, obviously.

COWEN: Martina, thank you very much.

NAVRATILOVA: Thank you.

Martina’s dog Lulu made a special appearance.
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