Martina Navratilova, the greatest female tennis player of all time, has a lot of fond memories of Chicagoon and off the court.
"I played in Chicago many times," Navratilova said told Windy City Times in an exclusive email interview. "I won 12 titles at the Chicago Slims, [including] a big one in 1992 when I broke the all-time tournament win record that I had shared with Chris Evert by beating Jana Novotna for my 158th win.
"I played the next year, 1993, and lost to Monica Seles; it was the last time I played in Chicago. "
Navratilova said she also has fond Chicago memories, centered on friends and food.
"I had some very good friends, a Czech family that lived in [suburban] Northbrook, so I stayed with them and ate a lot of homemade Czech food."
With racket in hand, Navratilova often was unstoppable, a left-handed sensation who was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000. She boasts a 1,442-219 overall singles career record. Navratilova won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 major women's doubles titles ( an all-time record ), and 10 major mixed doubles titles. She reached the Wimbledon singles final 12 times, including nine consecutive years from 1982 through 1990.
To say Navratilova was amazing on the court would be the understatement of the century.
She said the thing that stands out most from her career was, "I think the body of work, the length as well as the quality, being able to adapt to new equipment and new techniques."
Navratilova will appear Nov. 9 at the Chicago Humanities Festival for a one-hour speech, starting at 10 a.m. The event is held at the UIC Forum - Main Hall AB ( 725 W. Roosevelt Road ).
"I am very happy to have been asked to be part of the Chicago Humanities Festival's 2013 line up," Navratilova said. "It's relevant to me not only as an athlete, but also as an activist for equal rights. I'm also glad for the opportunity to bring to Chicago my perspective as AARP Fitness Ambassador, and being able to share my story on how I have re-imagined my life over the years."
She was last in Chicago in September for an AARP Foundation and Drive to End Hunger fundraiser. Along with Jeff Gordon and Rick Hendrick, they helped raise more than $100,000 for older adults who struggle with hunger, she said.
"It seems to me that athletes are specializing for a particular sport at an earlier age, which means better results, better athletes overall," she said. "We know so much more about how to support the body with much better, specific training as well as superior nutrition. So we're getting a lot more from our bodies."
Navratilova and her partner, Julia, have two girls, plus three dogs, a cat, a parrot and a turtle. All live in Miami. "I spend a lot of time riding my bike," Navratilova said. "I'm playing a little bit of tennis, but mostly I am talking about it on the Tennis Channel. As AARP Fitness Ambassador, I make several appearances and give speeches throughout the year, and write monthly columns for aarp.org ."
She also Tweets, she said.
And also, without question, she is a role model. That, she said, "comes with the territory." Fans have long "humbled" her when they tell the tennis great that people named their kids after her.
So who is Navratilova's role model?
Rod Laver, she said. She described the tennis icon as "a class act on the court, a lefty and an amazing person, and of course a great player."
When asked about being such a prominent member of the LGBT community, Navratilova said, "again, [it is] something I kind of fell into just by being gay. I didn't exactly study for that. I'm happy to have made a lot of kids as well as adults feel better about themselves."
Navratilova said the recent mass coming-out of active male professional athletesin basketball, soccer, boxing and pro wrestlinghas certainly caught her eye. "It's been a bit of a tsunami this last few years, yet still no [out] male tennis players," she said. "I'm happy to see that it is less and less of a big deal with each coming-out."
She added that the LGBT movement today "is a lot closer to getting full protection under the law, yet we still have a way to go. Look at ENDA and of course gay marriage. This needs to become federal law [because] state by state will take too long. But slowly we are inching forward."