A different kind of return from Navratilova – the artist – at Wimbledon

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The Independent Culture

For a woman who dominated tennis for a quarter of a century and won Wimbledon a record nine times, it was unsurprising that the sporting world mourned the departure of Martina Navratilova, when she announced her retirement from the sport in 2006.

This summer, Navratilova hopes to make a comeback to Wimbledon, not to play tennis, but as one half of an artistic duo.

Navratilova, 51, has collaborated in an art "happening" in which she hurls paint-covered balls on to a canvas. The technique, called "tennising", was conceived by the Czech artist Juraj Kralik, who asked the former tennis star if she would help create the works.

For the past eight years, the pair have worked together to create 300 pieces, which now sell for anything up to £126,000. Kralik decides at which angles Navratilova should hit the ball, while she enacts his wishes on tennis courts across the world.

The pair will unveil their work next month in two London exhibitions, Art Grand Slam at Fairway Village in Wimbledon and Smithfield Gallery. They also hope to make new art during the Wimbledon Championships. If the venture is successful, Navratilova hopes to pursue art as a second career, turning it into a franchise where, she said, "we can combine art, business and charity".

"At first, I could not quite imagine how the project would work, but Juraj's enthusiasm convinced me.

"I became fascinated. I am always looking for something new, something different, something challenging where I can have a free rein," she said.

"After a few more meetings, we agreed that we would start in the Revnice clay court tennis club in the Czech Republic, where I first learnt to play tennis. I was happy that the project would start on home soil.

"My favourite is a large canvas called Way of My Life. It features two loops formed with multi-coloured tennis ball impacts that spiral upwards to the top edge of the painting. This image represents the trajectory of my career, with a small loop and a big loop, and at the end it shows I am retired."

While Kralik has reportedly said he will only work with Navratilova, she hopes to recruit her one-time tennis rival, Chris Evert, and her favourite doubles partner, Pam Shriver, to make future works.

For Kralik, "tennising" evolved from his fascination with the various indentations left on clay courts by shoes and balls after a tennis match. "I was fascinated by clay courts (the only kind of courts existing in Czechoslovakia) when they were watered, swept and lines drawn on them with lime. A court with drawn lines reminded me of a Mondrian painting, ready for a sports match. However, I also saw something more in it – a space for a happening, where the impressions of balls and tennis shoes and the performance of the athletes' movement could create a fine, fascinating relief," he said.

Venetia Lang, director of Smithfield Gallery, said that the works would appeal to London collectors. "They are large, vibrant works, colourful and contemporary, which I think City boys would love, or anyone interested in sport or art, or both," she said.

Players who changed paths

Fred Perry

Cheshire-born Perry was Wimbledon champion three times. But just as famous is the clothing label he created in later years. The Fred Perry polo shirt he launched at Wimbledon in 1952 became the shirt of choice for teenagers in the 1960s and 1970s, and remains a best-seller.

Anna Kournikova

The Russian player won Grand Slam titles in 1999 and 2002, but her sporting career was blighted by serious back and spinal problems. Following semi-retirement, she embarked on a successful second career as a model.

John McEnroe

The American player known for his confrontational behaviour won seven Grand Slam singles titles. After retirement, he relaunched his career as a television presenter, with a CNBC show called McEnroe, and The Chair quiz show. He also commentates and owns an art gallery in Manhattan.

Monica Seles

Dominated the women's game in the 1990s but her career was never the same after an on-court attack in which she was stabbed. Recently, Seles has made appearances in the US show Dancing with the Stars, based on the British show, Strictly Come Dancing.

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