© Ella Ling

Wimbledon picture

People of Influence: No 16 Martina Navratilova


The Tennis Space: People of Influence:

Number 16: Martina Navratilova.

Sphere of influence: Petra Kvitova, the women’s game, the entire tennis world.

Winning nine Wimbledon singles titles tends to give you some clout. Regarded by some as the finest female player of all time, Navratilova still has great influence over the women’s game, and especially over Kvitova, a fellow Czech-born left-hander, and the current Wimbledon champion. Navratilova has plenty of opinions. She regards grunting as cheating, and she recently annoyed Caroline Wozniacki, a former world number one, by suggesting that the Dane never deserved to have been at the top of the rankings. Wozniacki called Navratilova “disrespectful”, and said that former players were there to “make comments and to stir things up”.

There is no one better at stirring things up than Navratilova, who has the authority, the conviction in her own beliefs, and no qualms at all about upsetting or annoying anyone. Billie Jean King called her friend “the greatest singles, doubles and mixed doubles player who’s ever lived”. Navratilova is also one of tennis’s great controversialists. Navratilova isn’t always right, but it’s not often that she is ignored. It was Navratilova who helped bring power and biceps to women’s tennis. Pre-Martina, women’s tennis had never seen muscle like it – for the first time, here was a female tennis player whose body was honed and hardened by the weights room and the running track. Twenty-two years after her last slam singles title, at the 1990 Wimbledon Championships, she remains relevant. She is not someone to be pushed to the margins, out into the tramlines.

They say: “I want to win nine Wimbledon titles,” Kvitova told Navratilova as the pair strolled around the All England Club this month.

She says: On dealing with her “personal 9/11″ of breast cancer: “I’m not the sort of person who wants to sit around feeling sorry for myself.”