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July/August 2005 | Raising a Racket With Martina Navratilova

July/August 2005 | Raising a Racket With Martina Navratilova

The legendary lesbian tennis star talks about her new role as Olivia's spokeswoman and dispatches travel wisdom from years on the sports circuit

Martina Navratilova showed up on the tennis scene in 1973 as a shy, chubby-cheeked Czechoslovakian teen. More than three decades later, the outspoken, iconic, adopted American citizen—who learned English, defected, and came out with the world watching—is still breaking barriers, defying conventions and competing on the women’s tennis tour at age 49. Shunned by corporate America for most of her openly gay career, the most frequent winner in the history of women’s tennis and nine-time Wimbledon champion recently inked a six-figure endorsement deal with lesbian travel company Olivia—the first time Navratilova secured a sponsorship for being gay rather than in spite of it.

The Out Traveler caught up with the Prague-born tennis legend at her residence in Sarasota, Fla., where she discussed the joys and frustrations of life on the road, traveling with her partner, and her new role with Olivia.

Talk about your new Olivia deal—what does it mean to you?
It means that a company that was founded by women and caters to women—and not just women, lesbians—can make it big enough to be endorsed by top entertainers and athletes. It’s great to be part of that. When you think about the ’70s and ’80s, this would have been an underground situation. For me, the attraction is that it’s making a difference in how straight people perceive gay people. Obviously, I’ve lost so many endorsements over the years because I was gay. It’s nice for it not to be in the way, which is always the point.

Any plans to take one of their cruises?
I know they have a Galapagos trip, but I don’t think I can do that one because of my schedule. They are going to a bunch of places I’d like to go, including Alaska and down to Antarctica.

The tennis circuit is often described as a traveling circus. Does it feel that way?
It does. We hit a town for a week and then move on to the next town. We think that we’re a big deal because wherever we are, we are the news for that week. If we only read the local paper, we get a very inflated opinion of ourselves because we’re front-page.

Do you look forward to going to certain towns because they may have a more vibrant lesbian community?
Yes, if you’re in bigger cities where it’s easier to go out on the town, although I never did anyway. I think I’ve gone to a gay bar about 10 times in my whole life. It just wasn’t my scene.

Any idea how many miles you’ve logged playing tennis in your life?
I’ve wondered that. All I know is that I’ve slept more in a hotel room than in my own room for my whole life. So far I’ve been home five weeks this year.

What are the things you miss most when traveling?
My dogs. Right now I have Chloe lying on my chest. She’s my Chihuahua. And Briseis, a Staffordshire bull terrier, is playing with my coach’s dog, a Jack Russell.

How many dogs do you have?

What? C’mon.
All in my house.

We better not publish this because the SPCA might come after you!
No, there’s no limit on how many dogs you can have. I’ve rescued most of those dogs from the pound! I also love TiVo and miss it. I don’t know why everybody in America doesn’t have it.

What’s unusual about traveling with so many women on tour around the world?
When you go to dinner and it’s all women, they don’t know who to bring the check to, or they don’t know who to bring the menu to at a fancy restaurant where only the man gets the menu with the prices on it. They get very confused then.

Do you hang out with the other gay girls on tour? Go out? Do things together?
Sometimes, but I’m so much older than all of them [laughs]. It’s not really a clique. It’s not like all the gay girls hang together and all the straight girls hang together. But yeah, there are some groups you feel more comfortable with. Normally there are some straight girls among them. One of my best friends on the tour is [South African player] Liezel Huber, and she’s straight. I hang out with her and her husband. I had a dog, Sophie, and she got the brother. That was our family because our dogs were brother and sister [laughs]. Some gay girls hang together, but I spend most of my time hanging out in the training room because those women are closer to my age than the players!

Have you encountered any problems while traveling as a lesbian?
No, but when I was doing a lot of hiking and backpacking in Colorado, I felt uncomfortable, not as a lesbian but as a single woman. I felt a little unsafe, so I got a big dog to go with me on these hikes, a Rhodesian ridgeback that was supposed to be protecting me. But in fact he’s such a wimp, whenever there’s a stranger he hides behind me [laughs]. He was not very much help.

I know you have had a partner for several years. Has traveling as a lesbian couple changed?
When you ask for a queen-size bed they don’t look at you funny anymore. They used to always try to give you two beds. I know couples that would mess up the other bed to make people think they had slept in different beds. I always thought, Who cares?

Do you go back to the Czech Republic and visit?
Yes, once or twice a year. My dad passed away a couple of years ago, and he couldn’t travel, so I used to go more then. Now that he’s gone my mom usually comes to see me. It’s changed so much, tremendously. Prague is a phenomenal city.

What do you do to keep in shape on the road?
Play tennis and go to the gym. Most hotels have a decent gym, or you can find a decent gym five minutes from the hotel in the big cities. So it’s pretty easy. I go to the pool, swimming. Most of the training I do is core stuff with a medicine ball and balance.

What about diet?
I try to stock up on fruits and veggies, so I go to the local food market, Wild Oats health food store, or something like that, organic produce. I travel with my juice maker, and I make my juice on the road.


The Championships, Wimbledon, England (outside London), held in June and July. “I don’t need to give you reasons for this one, do I? Because it’s grass. When you finish practicing, you can just sit on the court and stretch. It feels nice. It’s not dirt or cement.”

Telecom Italia Masters (Italian Open), Rome, held in May. “You get to be in Rome and eat Italian food and hang out with Italian people. The atmosphere is electric.”

The Bank of the West Classic, Palo Alto, Calif. (near San Francisco), held in July. “Because it’s San Francisco, and the crowds are very enthusiastic.”

The Australian Open, Melbourne, held in January. “Great city, and the spectators are very knowledgeable and appreciative.”

U.S. Open, New York City, held in August and September. “The atmosphere is great, and they treat me well, except for the security. They look in the trunk of my car. C’mon, give me a break.”

The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. We suggest that you confirm all details directly with the establishments mentioned before making travel plans. Please feel free to e-mail us at if you have any new information.
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