Navrátilová: I’m happy today’s children don’t have to leave country

Martina Navrátilová

Czech-born all-time tennis great Martina Navrátilová has just received an award in Prague, the silver medal of the president of the Senate. The 66-year-old said she was happy to be back – and glad that today’s young sports people don’t have to leave their native country.

Martina Navrátilová | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

Martina Navrátilová, who grew up in Řevnice near Prague, is one of the greatest tennis players of all time, with an incredible 59 major titles, including 18 in singles.

Early this year, Navrátilová, who is 66, revealed she had been diagnosed with throat and breast cancers, though she later said she was in remission.

On Tuesday she was in Prague to receive the silver medal of the president of the Senate. Upper house chief Miloš Vystrčil said she merited it not only for her sporting achievements but personal positions.

And Navrátilová was clearly moved during the presentation of the award at the Czech upper house, saying it had brought a tear to her eye.

Martina Navrátilová and Miloš Vystrčil | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

“When the email came from Mr. Vystrčil saying I would receive the silver medal it was some time in February, when I had some health difficulties. I said to myself, Are they afraid I'll die before they give it to me? They wanted to give it to me in New York, but I could hardly walk. I said, Hopefully I will come to Řevnice and we’ll manage it when I’m in Prague… It means a lot to me – but you know I’m more used to gold [laughs].”

That joking last line earned applause from those gathered at the Senate for Tuesday’s ceremony.

Speaking to a group of journalists a short while later, Navrátilová – whose Czech perhaps bears a slight trace of her decades in the United States – said she still came back to Czechia to see relatives.

Martina Navrátilová | Photo: Ondřej Deml,  ČTK

“My sister lives here, in Řevnice, so I still like to come back. I just have to pay attention to my figure [laughs], because I always eat more than I should. But recently I lost a lot of weight, so it’s OK – I can stay a little longer. My mother used to also feed me up when I visited. But I like coming here – it’s calm. Now I have the medal and getting the honour was a bit nerve-wracking. Speaking to you is also nerve-wracking, but I like to come back.”

Navrátilová fled Czechoslovakia in 1975, when she was in her late teens, after being denied the right to compete in professional tennis in the US.

“I’m happy that both tennis and sport are more international. That people, especially children, have the opportunity to do sports, reach the top and win. But there’s still a way to go for those who don’t have that opportunity. There is always room for improvement, but things are way better than in my day and no children have to escape from Czechia at least.”