July 7, 1978: Martina Navratilova wins her first Wimbledon singles title, rallying from 2-4 in the final set to beat Chris Evert 2-6, 6-4, 7-5. And on this day in 1990, Navratilova would take her final Wimbledon singles crown, downing Zina Garrison in straight sets. It was Martina’s ninth singles championship at the All-England Club, breaking a 52-year-old record (and the mark still stands). In all, Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles championships, the same number as Evert. The duo is tied for third all-time in tennis’ Open era behind Serena Williams and Steffi Graf.
Evert, Martina’s biggest rival, dominated women’s tennis in the 1970s, and this victory was seen as a passing of the torch. Although Navratilova was the dominant force of the 1980s, Evert was still strong and beat her in the 1985 French Open. But Martina had a 14-8 career record against Evert in Grand Slam events and was 10-4 against her in major finals.
Navratilova was ranked No. 1 in singles a total of 332 weeks, a record eventually surpassed by Graf. Martina’s legacy is enhanced by her performance in doubles. She won 31 women’s doubles major titles in her career and another 10 mixed doubles major championships. Her 59 combined crowns in Grand Slam events is still a record in the Open era.
Navratilova was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1956. She first started hitting tennis balls off a concrete wall at the age of four. As her career took root in her late teens, she asked the United States for political asylum in 1975 after she turned pro and was promptly stripped of her citizenship in Czechoslovakia, then a Communist country. Navratilova became a U.S. citizen in 1981. Martina, who is openly gay and is active in LGBTQ causes, turn 66 years old this October. She played a couple of matches in Boise when the Idaho Sneakers World Team Tennis franchise was active in the 1990s.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)