Martina Navratilova wins opening match at Prague Open

Martina Navratilova, photo: CTK

After more than 20 years away from competitive play in Prague, Martina Navratilova has won her opening doubles match at the Prague Open. Navratilova and Barbora Strycova defeated Olga Blahotova and Ahsha Rolle 6:2, 6:3 in just over one hour of play.

Martina Navratilova,  photo: CTK
"I expected exactly what I got, which was lots of respect, lots of love, and most of all I think people enjoy the way I play the game."

There's no doubt about Martina Navratilova's sense that on Tuesday afternoon, the crowd at Prague's Stvanice arena was out in full force to see her play. She'd played here as a teenager, before emigrating to the United States in 1975 at age 19, and then again in 1986 when she helped the Americans to victory at the Fed Cup in Prague. But on Tuesday, Martina Navratilova appeared on centre court at the Prague Open and proved to everyone that at 50, she's still the queen of what tennis pros call the "chip and charge" technique. Martina Navratilova and Barbora Strycova have advanced to the second round in doubles play, and they are definitely the home-town favourites. After the match, I caught up with Martina Navratilova:

The match took just over one hour today, 6:2, 6:3, and you looked great out on the court today. How did you feel?

Martina Navratilova and Barbora Strycova,  photo: CTK
"Pretty good. It was nerve-wracking coming out and trying to hold my own in front of a very happy and expectant crowd. When I walked out there and people were cheering so much I had to really concentrate on...I had to do something to keep myself busy, because you want to soak it up, but at the same time you have to win the match. It's not like you're just performing—you need to win. So you have to keep yourself busy and concentrate on the task at hand, which is winning the match, so then you break it down and say 'what do I have to do?' and you can't get too nostalgic because then you probably wouldn't be able to walk."

Your doubles partner, Barbora Strycova, is also very impressive. Some of us didn't know what to expect from her. How did you find her and do you plan to play with her again?

"I've played with her and I've practiced with her last year, and I know her pretty well. I know she can play doubles—she has a pretty good ranking—and I played against her just a few weeks ago, so I know she can play and I had no doubt that she would be a good partner."

One last obvious question: it's been twenty years since you played at Prague's Stvanice—how did it feel out there today? The crowd loved you...

Martina Navratilova,  photo: CTK
"I played an exhibition here in 1995, but still, it's not the same as playing a tournament, and this is really the first normal tournament—in 1986 it was the Fed Cup. It's just a shame that there were not more opportunities for me to play in front of my home crowd. You know, for most of my life I've played in front of a crowd that was pulling for the other guy because I was number one, but I never felt at home. Even playing in the Unites States, they really started cheering me on at the end of my career. Now I get the crowd on my side pretty much anywhere I go, but it would have been nice to have been able to play here more, but that's how it goes. I'm just thankful that I'm still here now and I'm enjoying every minute of it."

Good luck in the rest of the tournament.