Saturday, December 15, 2012

Martina Navratilova and Nancy Lieberman Change Women's Tennis Forever - Part 2

Lieberman's goal was as simple as it was ambitious: Martina Navratilova was to become the greatest tennis player ever, and this would be accomplished by making her the quickest, most flexible, strongest, hardest hitting, most enduring and the physically most impressive player ever. Just the sight of her was to scare her opponents.

Lieberman had seen Navratilova train once, and she was unimpressed. A couple of forehands, a couple of backhands, a chat at the net, some lobs,some volleys and ... the end. "You call that training?" Lieberman is said to have uttered.

A few months later, Lieberman stood bent over a crying and exhausted Navratilova, lying on the ground after a killing spurt sequence, and yelled "get up!" Because training is hard and it hurts. Navratilova gritted her teeth and finished the physical training designed for army recruits.

She trained without a racquet three hours a day, lifted weights with a body builder five times a week, played basketball flat out, stopped eating meat, and put together a diet low on fat and high in carbohydrates, vitamin drinks and food supplements carefully dosed according to the results of daily blood tests.

She hired a masseur, an acupuncturist, an osteopath and a dietician. Together with her coach, she analysed her own play as well as Chris Evert's with something as unusual as a computer.

The methods were unheard of, but they worked.

From the end of 1981, Martina started six years of total dominance. She won 15 Grand Slam singles titles and 22 doubles. She won five out of six Year End Championships, six Wimbledon titles in a row, and was the world number one for 250 out of 276 weeks.

The power demonstration was so complete that it almost became boring.

Navratilova didn't just beat her opponents, she crushed them. She pushed them off the court with her aggressive shots and overwhelming physique. The match was almost over before it began.

On her way to her Wimbledon triumph in 1983, it took her on average, from the first round up to and including the final, only 47 minutes to send her opponent to the showers. She was unstoppable.

The year after, from February to December, she won 74 matches in a row, the longest unbroken winning streak ever. From being one of many top players, Navratilova became almost unbeatable. Chris Evert, once so dominant, was now consistently number two, so much so that she proposed that Navratilova should play with the men, and leave the women alone.

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