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I have to admit that as a kid I was not a Martina Navrátilova fan. Any time she played Chris Evert, Evonne Goolagong, Hana Mandlíková, or Pam Shriver, I wanted them to win. It was only later when Martina was in her 30s that my heart started to follow her.

Looking back, I wonder why it took so long.

Martina played a game like no one else in her era or after: an exciting rush to the net at every opportunity on all surfaces. Her backcourt game was crowned by a deft, sliced backhand that was perfect for grass and clay. You Don’t Realize What You Have Until It’s Gone rings very true for Martina. The power hitters of today can be a bit robotic. Martina’s game and her personality were anything but.

She turned 60 yesterday. For years, Martina has blazed many trails that are heroic as her achievements on the court. As a teenager, she left her family and friends behind in Czechoslovakia to defect to the United States. A few years later, she was outed, at a time not of her choosing, as bisexual (and later identified herself as a lesbian).

I met Martina once. I was a young tennis journalist who had just asked Chris Evert a question that was a tad long. Chris, whom I had adored all those years, gave me a withering look I still remember (although she later took time to pose for a picture with me!). Martina rescued me. She graciously reframed my question. As the greatest doubles champion of all time, Martina rescued many of her partners who hit a less than ideal shot. I’m sure she has made thousands of men and women a little more secure in their footing on and off the court. Happy Birthday, Martina!

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