Martina Navratilova never shirked a challenge in her glittering tennis career, and she isn’t shy about giving an opinion either.
The winner of 167 singles titles and one of the greatest players faced a news conference at the Australian Open on Monday and addressed issues ranging from Margaret Court’s criticism of same-gender marriage to prize money at Grand Slam tournaments.
Eyebrows were raised when Navratilova’s first match in the legends’ doubles Sunday was scheduled for Margaret Court Arena, AP reported. The 55-year-old Navratilova didn’t even consider a boycott. Instead, the longtime advocate for gay rights wore a rainbow-colored patch on her sleeve as she and Nicole Bradtke beat Martina Hingis and Iva Majoli.
The 69-year-old Court, an 11-time Australian Open champion who is now a Christian pastor, caused a stir before this year’s tournament when she told media in Western Australia that “politically correct education has masterfully escorted homosexuality out from behind closed doors, into the community openly and now is aggressively demanding marriage rights that are not theirs to take.”
Navratilova was gracious when talking about the venue and scheduling of her opening match.
“Playing on Margaret Court Arena, it’s an honor, as always, to be on that court,” Navratilova said. “You know, it’s not a personal issue. Clearly Margaret Court’s views that she has expressed on same sex marriage, I think are outdated.
“But it’s not about any one person. It’s not about religious rights, it’s about human rights. It’s a secular view, not a religious view.”
Navratilova said she hadn’t spoken to Court for years.
“She was all about Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. She repeated that about four or five times, so I just felt I couldn’t get through to her,” Navratilova said. “Maybe she thought she could get through to me.”
In a career spanning 33 years, Navratilova won 167 titles in singles, and 177 in doubles. She won the first of her 18 Grand Slam singles titles at Wimbledon in 1978 to claim the top ranking for the first of a total of 332 weeks.
She refuses to criticize Caroline Wozniacki, who has been No. 1 since October 2010 but hasn’t won a major and reached her only Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open in 2009.
A system that doesn’t place enough importance on the quality of opponents a player has beaten is to blame, according to Navratilova, who believes Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova had a claim to be considered the true No. 1.
“It weighs too much on quantity and not enough on quality,” Navratilova said of the points-based rankings system. “They both get to a semis and one player beats No. 1 player and No. 3 player to get to the semis, and the other one gets qualifiers and they get the same amount of points. It doesn’t make any sense.”
Navratilova has spoken to the WTA, which runs the women’s tour, but doesn’t know if any officials are listening.
“Maybe they will hear it now,” she said. “But I asked are they changing the system, and they have no intention to. I think it’s a mistake.”
Navratilova’s next conversation might be with Grand Slam tournament organizers over the vexed issue of prize money.
The subject came to light on the eve of the Australian Open following a meeting of the men’s players. Many of them believe that prize money has not increased in line with growing profits at the four majors – and some are prepared to go as far as striking to make their point.
“I think the Grand Slams are making a lot more than they’re sharing with the players. I think that’s a fact,” Navratilova said. “When the players try to talk to them, the Grand Slams are like, ‘Oh, well. Get lost. Too bad.’
“If the men and women got together I think the Grand Slams would listen. The players made the slams big and the slams made the players big. It’s a very symbiotic relationship, but the slams are ruling the roost. They dictate everything to the players.”
Multimillionaire players complaining about how much they earn doesn’t often garner much sympathy from fans, but Navratilova says the point is still valid.
“Compared to what a teacher is making, we are grossly overpaid,” she said. “Compared to what the slams are netting, they are underpaid.”
Prize money has come a long way since Navratilova’s day though.
“I think I won $6,000 when I got to the finals here in ’74,” she said. “Which I needed to make so I could pay the airline ticket back to the States.”
The men’s and women’s champions at the Australian Open will each receive $2.4 million in prize money, with the losing finalists getting $1.2 million. The 64 men and 64 women who lost in the first round of singles received $21,800.