Saturday, December 15, 2012

Martina Navratilova and Nancy Lieberman change women's tennis - Part 3

My translation of Anders Haar Rasmussen's wonderful book Én Bold Ad Gangen

page 73-75

It was meant as a joke, but it wasn't far from the truth. Women's tennis had never before had such a dominant player. Mighty Martina was a tight, muscled package, her shots were powerful, her movement explosive. She stormed to the net and threw herself around the court like, yes, a man. Today one might say that she new standards for women's tennis and what a woman could produce on court.

They didn't say that then. What they said what was what a frustrated spectator yelled out in a match between Navratilova and Chris Evert during the US Open: "C'mon Chris! I want a real woman to win!"

That was Evert: a real woman, the lovely girl next door with the shy smile, the devout Catholic, loved by everyone and married to the delightful British tennis player John Lloyd. She was the definition of elegance on court. Her game depended on patience, timing, technical ability and precise ground strokes.

She was a study in concentration, always self-controlled and prescient. Her balance and legwork were like a danser, graceful even under pressure.

"No point is worth getting your dress dirty for," she said early in her career. (Footnote: She expanded on that view in a book on women's tennis from 1974. "I know some women who lift weights. They say Margaret Court did. But even if it would make me stronger, I'd never do it. It's important for one's self-confidence to look feminine. I want to be known as a women, not just as a tennis player.")

Worried tennis writers decried Evert's decline, because, without her, "today's youngsters ... will grow up thinking all women tennis players have thighs like Schwarzenegger and last names that end in the letters o-v-a.", as Tom Powers wrote in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Sept.3, 1989, barely hiding his reference to Navratilova, who was also referred to as "a wandering mixed doubles pair".

Her opponents didn't hold back either. After a close loss at the French Open in 1984, a bitter Hana Mandlikova sat down at the post-match press conference and said, "it's hard to play against a man -- I mean, Martina. She comes to the net and scares you with her muscles. Shes's really big."

Her statements made the front pages, and it only got worse the day after when they played against each other in the women's doubles final. Mandlikova imitated Navratilova from the other side of the net, posing as a body-builder, pointing at her flexed biceps while staring at her opponent.

At her tallest, Navratilova was 173 cm and weighed 66 kg. She was in top shape, surrounded by every type of specialist for every type of performance enhancing training. It was exceptional. Today, it's normal.

Caroline Wozniacki trains unhesitatingly four hours a day with, and two hours a day without her racquet. She trains boxing with Poul Duvill, the trainer of former world boxing champion Mads Larsen. She has, like all the other players at her level, a small army of physiotherapists, masseurs and personal trainers at her beck and call in order to perform at her maximum. She strong as an ox, 178 cm tall, and hits the ball harder than Navratilova ever did.

Nothing else will do in modern women's tennis. And Wozniacki is far from being the biggest performer at the top of the rankings.  The five top seeded here at the US Open are on average 1.80 cm tall and weigh over 68 kg. None of them would be scared by Navratilova. (Footnote: the five top seeded at the US Open in 1981 were on average 1.69 cm and weighed 59 kg.)

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