Category Archives: Martina Navratilova

How would you describe Maria Sharapova’s tennis career, or anyone else’s for that matter, in six words or less?

Just before that Ray Davies piece in The New Yorker, there’s a story about a new book called Not Quite What I Was Planning, a book of six word autobiographies. Not Quite What I Was Planning, get it? It’s a six word autobiography.

If I were to write my own six word autobiography it might look like this: “Honest, I’ll eventually get it right.” What about tennis professionals? What would theirs look like? Instead of exactly six words, we’ll allow six words or less.

Maria Sharapova is finally developing a net game or, maybe it’s safer to say, her allergy to the net has improved much as I can now drink milk without, well, you don’t want to know. Still, her game is power so I nominate the following for her career autobiography: “If I could hit it harder…” The obvious unsaid ending is “I would” but we’re only allowed six words.

Roger Federer’s might be “Fly like a butterfly sting like a bee” which is more than six words and is completely stolen from Muhammad Ali, so how about this: “Most dominant except for Tiger.”

Pete Sampras, poor guy, he gets so much grief for his charisma shortcomings so we could go with this: “Everything was boring but my game, ” but I prefer, “Will throw up for a win.”

Martina Hingis has now retired to her horses and her boyfriends, but when she was playing, there was no smarter player out there and that little grin of hers let you know that she knew it. Therefore I give you: “The cerebral assassin strikes again.”

In this month’s issue of Tennis View, a new lifestyle magazine by Teresa Thompson, Teresa asks James Blake to complete the following sentence: “I wish journalists would stop asking me…” I’ll let you guess his answer but I will offer you this as his six word tennis autobiography: “Stop asking me about my goals.”

When Daniela Hantuchova turns her back to her opponent at the beginning of each point to psyche herself up, I always assume she’s singing the refrain from the Pointer Sisters song, Yes We Can Can. I imagine her singing, repeatedly: “Yes I can can, can can.”

Many six word autobiographies could describe Ana Kournikova and most of them would focus on her many assets, but here is one that highlights her assets without directly mentioning them: “Who needs titles to be famous?”

Lastly let’s tackle one of the best ever, Chris Evert. She was a conservative little miss in her earlier years. That changed over time as only it could if you were thrown into a locker room with rabble rousers Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, but one thing that never changed was her dominant will. I offer this with all due reverence: “Less than perfect, don’t be ridiculous!”

As you can see, this kind of thing is not exactly my forte so help me out here in two ways:

1. Give us your autobiography in six words or less.
2. Give us an autobiography in six words or less for your favorite and least favorite player.

Best set of autobiographies gets a copy of the book, Not Quite What I Was Planning. For real.

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Twenty-five game winning streak, 63-4 record, 14 out of the 16 tournament wins, two slams and a year end championship title. This is not the ATP, this is not Roger Federer, this is Justine Henin and it could have been three slams if she hadn’t skipped the Australian Open to deal with her divorce.

I spent a fair amount of time looking up comparable records on the women’s side this morning. As far as I can tell, Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova are the only women players with a better won loss record. Graf’s record was 86-2 in 1989 and Navratilova was 86-1 in 1983. Notice how many more matches women played in that era, by the way, and yet they didn’t appear to break down anywhere near as much as today’s players do.

We’ll see if Justine goes on to surpass, say, the Williams sisters in slams – go to the sidebar and cast your vote on the question – but it’s more interesting to look at Justine’s emotional arc than her numbers.

The Williams sisters have their own compelling story: hardscrabble childhood, crazy like a fox tennis coach father, competing careers in fashion and entertainment. But Justine has somehow managed to play out her emotional life in front of us as she’s made her way to the top, and unlike Serena and Venus, she’s done it by revealing as little as possible about herself. No reality show for Justine just yet.

These days Justine is a veritable fountain of sharing relative to the early part of her career. At that time we knew her mother had died when she was 12 years old, and we knew she was estranged from her father and siblings, but that’s about it, and she wasn’t going to tell us much more than necessary. If you saw her in the players’ cafeteria, there she was with her coach, Carlos Rodriguez, the two of them a little island in a sea of players. Even now she’s one of those people who close her eyes when she talks to you as if to be sure she doesn’t give away too much.

Many players fall apart when life intervenes in their career. Nikolay Davydenko is buckling under the pressure of an ongoing gambling investigation as we speak. Henin, though, just appears to be getting stronger.

This year she divorced her husband and created a bit more independence from Rodriguez and his family – which was her substitute family after all. At the same time she welcomed her father and siblings back into her life. In the process of opening her heart a bit more to herself and to the public, she seems to have learned that the stoicism that carried her through the early part of her career was a brittle strength. It didn’t allow her to stand on her own.

For most players on the tour, though not all, tennis is an all-consuming passion. For Justine I think it goes one step farther and it’s the key to why she’s been able to keep rising up the ranks despite an emotionally wrenching journey.

Tennis has been the substitute for some of Justine’s life outside of tennis and now that the outside world is creeping back into her life, her tennis is secure enough that it enhances her game. Most people need their personal lives in order to perform well in their career. Some people do it the other way around. Success in their career gives them the confidence to open their hearts to those in their personal lives.

Justine doesn’t need a reality TV show, we’ve been watching it all along.

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