04/22/2015

"I'm still loyal to Porsche"

Martina Navratilova is a living tennis legend, especially in Stuttgart. With six singles' titles, she is the only record-holder at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

Mrs Navratilova, you are the only record winner in the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix with six wins. When was the last time you were in Stuttgart?

I haven't been there for a long time but I've been driving Porsche since 1978. That was when I bought a 928. It was my reward the first year I won Wimbledon. I saw the car in a showroom. It looked fantastic. I said to myself: if I win at Wimbledon, I'll buy myself this car. At that time, it cost 29,000 dollars, by the way. For the past two years, I've been driving a Panamera. So you see, I'm still loyal to Porsche. I've won some cars but I've also bought many myself.

Have you followed how the tournament has changed in Stuttgart in the meantime?

I'm afraid I've only viewed it on TV. It certainly gives a fantastic impression. The women players love the tournament. I would love to come back again and see the Porsche Arena. The production plant in Zuffenhausen is also one of my burning interests. I'm a car freak. You won't believe it but I've also taken an interest in the inner workings of my cars.

Is there anything special you remember? What were the highlights in Stuttgart during your active career?

The food was always great (laughs). It was a really special treat when the spectators sang happy birthday for me on my birthday. In those days, the tournament always took place in October. My most memorable final victory was against Chris Evert in 1988. Perhaps I played my best tennis then. I still remember that afterwards, I raced along the autobahn in my winner's car and the speedometer showed 285 kilometres an hour.

Recently you started training Agnieszka Radwanska. How did that come about?

Her manager called me last November. He was looking for someone who could advance her even further. I said, okay, but I had to meet her first. I had to get to know her. I wanted to know why she wanted me of all people to be her trainer. It was important for me to know what she was prepared to do to achieve optimum performance.

Martina Navratilova with the Porsche 928 S

How would you define your task?

It's not a full-time job. I have many other obligations. I work a lot for television. But I'm also part of the team. Agnieszka has a first-class coach in Tomasz Wiktorowski. I'm only there to help on a few points. That's how I did things during my own career. Craig Kardon was my coach but I asked Billie Jean King to help me. At that time, I had already won Wimbledon several times. But I wanted more titles. I wanted to improve even more. Agnieszka wants the same thing. She's already been playing some time on the tour but she's only 25. She has still plenty of time to make progress.

Is there a time frame for your collaboration?

The agreement goes through to Wimbledon. Then we'll see. It has to fit together. The relationship between trainer and player is something very intimate. They have to know each other very well and both must place complete trust in each other. They must like each other. Otherwise it won't work. If we both feel good – who knows how long it will last then.

Do you also go on court and hit balls with her?

Not normally, no. She has a fixed hitting partner and anyway I can't hit hard enough anymore. But I've trained a couple of times with her, especially when she had to compete against left-handers. I simulated the service.

You are a great champion yourself. You've won 18 Grand Slam tournaments. But so far, Agnieszka is missing a big title. What can you teach her?

There are many minor details she can improve on. Not that she needs a lot of help. I can start immediately with strokes and situations where she feels good. Then there are things that take a little longer. Apparently, she's already a great player. But everyone can improve. The important thing is she should open herself. She must firmly believe she can improve and put everything else in second place. Her service needs a bit more punch. But her service has already got stronger and she hits more aces. It's small technical details that matter.

Martin Navratilova mit her tennis double partner Arantxa Sanchez-Vicaro

Will she go to the net more often?

It's not a question of going to the net. It's a matter of where to and the position from where she plays the ball. It's not absolutely necessary to go to the front. But she should start moving towards the net if she has the opportunity. We're working on her hitting the ball sooner to get into a more offensive position.

Before, you uncompromisingly played serve and volley. Would you still do that today?

Today, it's easier to return than in my time. That makes it difficult to go to the net. Services are also much better and that makes it more difficult to chip and charge as I did. I went straight to the net with my return. You have to know exactly where you're standing on the court when you go to the net. The first volley is the most difficult stroke. You need a lot of self-confidence and special skills for net attacks. I would never advise Agnieszka to play any different from what comes naturally to her. The fact is, she has occasionally played serve and volley in the past.

Is cleverness more important than power?

The one doesn't rule the other out. Some women players have more power than others. Some have better services, better volleys or a good slice. Each player has her strengths and weaknesses. The question is how you deal with this during a match. That not only goes for Agnieszka but for every player. But it is an individual sport and my task is to get the best out of Agnieszka's skills. The tour has undergone extreme changes since you were an active player. There are more tournaments, there's more prize money and more professionalism.

Is everything better today? Or in other words, is there something you are missing today?

The women players had stronger ties in my days, that was better. We didn't have the money to keep a personal team. That first started to change in the eighties and nineties. Today, the coach, hitting partner, father, mother, siblings and boyfriend all sit at one table. This breaks down the personal contacts between the individuals. But many things are better. The players are looked after more at tournaments. Travelling is easier; the hotels and infrastructure at tournaments are better. Even the food is tastier. I brought my own food because I'm always very careful with my nutrition. Today, players are well looked after.

Martina Navratilova has won the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix six times

What has changed on court?

There are better strings, and rackets are of higher quality. Women players are fitter. In the past, there were more contrasts. I raced to the net and Chris Evert or Steffi Graf stuck to the baseline. That's what made our duels so exciting. There are still differences but they are not so apparent. Just serve-and-volley doesn't work anymore. You have to build up rallies differently – hit three or four balls, then bring yourself into position. Strategy has become more subtle.

Would you say that your are busier today than ever before?

During Grand Slam tournaments definitely –with TV, my trainer job and often matches with senior players. At home in Miami I'm also busy but it's a different kind of stress: I'm married. We have two girls and pets – five dogs, one cat, a bird, and two tortoises.

Martina Navratilova

Born: October 18, 1956

Place of birth: Prague

1st professional season: 1973

End of career: 2006

Prize money: 21.626 million US dollars

Singles: 1140:213 wins

Tournament wins Singles: 167

Wins in Wimbledon: 9

Weeks at number one: 331

Grand Slam-titles: 18

Longest winning series in singles: 74 wins (1983 to 1984)

Today: still closely connected to tennis (TV expert and since December 2014 trainer of the Pole Agnieszka Radwanska)

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