Tennis great Navratilova's frustration at year without Wimbledon

Martina Navratilova (Getty Images)
Martina Navratilova (Getty Images)

The deadly coronavirus pandemic which has spread around the world, has devastated sport. Not just for those expecting to compete, but for those whose life always had a familiar pattern at this time of year.

None more so than tennis legend and Laureus Academy member Martina Navratilova.

Navratilova is in lockdown in her home in Florida and says she is coping with the situation, but saddened that she will not be at Wimbledon for the first time since 1973, now that the Grand Slam event has been called off.

And she is also seriously worried about many of the children and young adults who attend Laureus Sport for Good programmes around the world who may be vulnerable to the impact of coronavirus.

In an interview with Laureus.com, Navratilova, winner of 59 Grand Slam titles, said: “For tennis players, at New Year’s, we always toast Wimbledon. I have been coming to Wimbledon since I was 16. I have not missed one of them. Now it’s the first time without Wimbledon and I’m itching to get on a plane and just touch the grass.

“Just to be there, just to ground yourself. Boris (Becker), particularly, and myself, have always had a love affair with Wimbledon and I think the fans know it. Wimbledon transcends tennis and transcends sport. 

“At these times, I think it also makes us realise how much sport is a luxury and we were so lucky that we were actually playing it for a living, but everybody misses it, it’s still such a big part of the fabric of our lives.

“Only war has stopped major tournaments happening, now we have this pandemic and for players like Roger Federer and, of course, Serena Williams, it’s time lost. Particularly Serena, Wimbledon being her best chance to break Margaret Court’s record. She’s stuck on 23 and tries to get to 24, maybe 25. It’s an opportunity lost, when you’re not getting any younger. If I was sitting in that position I’d be going nuts that I can’t play.

“Everybody’s in the same boat, but for the old players like Roger and even Rafa Nadal and, particularly, Serena Williams, it’s more difficult, no doubt about it. I sympathise with them, because this is an enemy you can’t rehab, you can’t fight against, you just hope it will go away and we can play next year.

“Novak Djokovic is right behind Roger and Rafa chasing the major titles, but I think the one that’s most affected would be Roger Federer because he’s the eldest by quite a bit. But you have to deal with it. As Billie Jean King said ‘champions adjust’.”

Martina Navratilova (Getty Images)

As a Laureus Academy member, who over the years has visited many of the humanitarian programmes around the world which Laureus supports, Navratilova is seriously concerned now for many of the young people involved.

“In many countries, Laureus has given kids an opportunity to be themselves, to compete, play, socialise and even get some safe education in a safe space that they can’t get, for whatever reason, with their family or their neighbourhood or their country.

“I’m so proud to have been part of some of these projects. I went to a boxing project in the East End of London, and even went in the ring, and I’ve been to a slum in Mathare on the outskirts of Nairobi a couple of times where you just can’t imagine the conditions.

“There’s 10 000 kids that are playing football, doing education, health, wellbeing, getting HIV Aids advice. And now you add to that, coronavirus, and social distancing in places where people are packed 10 to 20-square feet, it’s tricky.

“This pandemic that’s hitting Europe, that’s hitting America, hasn’t really gotten into Africa and Asia and they’re behind the curve and now how will they be dealing with it? How will we be helping them? Maybe Laureus can find a way to get ahead of the curve because that wave is coming and all these projects are going to be affected in a much bigger way.

“And of course when people are just worrying about staying alive, economically everybody’s suffering and people are not donating as much to charities so everybody suffers all the way down the line and the charities are the first to go. So, this is going to be really tricky to keep all these projects going. We must keep the money flowing somehow.

“Every project is different, every situation is different and you need to make it specific for that particular time and place. I was involved in a small project in Fort Lauderdale, trying to get people to sew masks, something that can save lives.

“I know a few doctors and nurses. They signed up to help people out, but they didn’t sign up to risk their own lives, so we pour out our hearts to thank them. I think also, in the long-term, this pandemic will help the people that are overlooked - the janitors, the cleaners, the people that deliver the food, that pick the food. I’m hoping that this will raise their status and show how necessary they are for our wellbeing and maybe will get better paid for their work as well.

“The statistics are just overwhelming, the suffering is overwhelming. I find the irony of all of it is coronavirus is killing people, for the most part, where they can’t breathe, it attacks our lungs. But Mother Earth is breathing a lot better because we’re not poisoning her with our fumes.

“I just hope that somehow we find a way out of this and not too many people suffer. I think the haves and havenots, the gulf between people is even more obvious now because people of colour, people of low socio-economic status are impacted the most and don’t have any way to get away from it. They don’t really see the end of the tunnel, so my heart just goes out to all the people that are affected in such a tough way.

“Finally to all the kids and adults who have been affected by this in Laureus projects, I say ‘hang in there, things will get better, we will get through this.’”

Over the last 20 years, Laureus Sport for Good has raised more than €150m for the Sport for Development sector, reaching and helping change the lives of almost 6 million children and young people. Laureus Sport for Good currently supports more than 200 programmes in over 40 countries that use the power of sport to transform lives.

Martina Navratilova (Getty Images)

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