Disillusioned with the US, Navratilova defects again

James Macintyre
Wednesday 12 March 2008 01:00

Martina Navratilova has regained Czech nationality more than 30 years after fleeing a Communist regime she now compares favourably to that of her adopted country America under President George Bush.

The nine-time Wimbledon champion and one of the world's greatest ever tennis players, Ms Navratilova was born in Prague. She fled in 1975 at the height of the Cold War after being denied the right to compete in professional tennis in the US, where most major tournaments were then played and to where she later moved.

After angering the Communist authorities and living in America for six years, she became a US citizen.

Yesterday, however, she told a press conference in Tokyo that she now has her home citizenship back. "I lost it at the time I defected. I got it back on 9 January," she said.

The widely respected star had previously spoken of her disdain of the government of her adopted nation. "The thing is that we elected Bush," she told the Czech newspaper Lidove Noviny. "That is worse. Against that, nobody chose a Communist government in Czechoslovakia."

She will now maintain dual citizenship with both the US and the Czech Republic. Czechoslovakia split in 1993 after the fall of the Berlin Wall into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.

Freed up to play her beloved sport, Ms Navratilova went on to dominate it, winning 18 Grand Slams in total including four at the US Open and three at the Australian Open as well as her victories at Wimbledon, where she was perhaps most celebrated, playing a record 279 matches.

She officially retired in 1994, but returned to the circuit in 2000 to play doubles, winning several tournaments, including at Wimbledon in 2003, making her the oldest champion at 46.

She finally hung up her racquet in September 2006 after winning the US Open with her friend Bob Bryan – the 354th and final tournament of her career. At the time she said: "While tennis will always be a huge part of who I am, that chapter in my life is officially closed. And you know, I haven't looked back since."

Ms Navratilova, 51, is now planning to open an academy for the advancement of young tennis players in the Czech Republic.

Looking back on her life, Ms Navratilova has said: "At about eight years old, I decided tennis was going to be the ticket.

"Mind you there was no money in it back then, but I loved the game so much, so my family did everything to make that happen."

After what she described as a "pretty normal life until I hit 16", when, during her first year on tour, "it was a treat to go 'west' for a once in a lifetime vacation. So I knew I was pretty lucky".

Over the years Ms Navratilova has been a high-profile supporter of a number of charities devoted to deprived children, animal rights and gay rights.

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