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
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?
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.
MARTINA’S FAVORITE TENNIS TOURNAMENTS
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.”
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
Bank of the West Classic, Palo Alto, Calif. (near San Francisco),
held in July. “Because it’s San Francisco, and the crowds are very
Australian Open, Melbourne, held in January. “Great city,
and the spectators are very knowledgeable and appreciative.”
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 email@example.com if you have any new information.