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November 22, 2003

Martina Navratilova


Q. How does it feel to be playing for the United States?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: It's pretty sweet to come back for Fed Cup. I mean, the fact that we're playing in Moscow is another twist to the whole thing. Just playing again after eight years, that was just doubles really when I played against Austria, it's not something that I expected to happen when I decided to play again. But it's a nice bonus, for sure.

Q. I understand you're the only player in the tournament with a 37-0 undefeated record coming in. Your doubles partner is Russian. I understand you're both quite close friends.

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: I know a lot of the Russian players pretty well. Of course, I got to know my doubles partner, Svetlana, pretty well this past year. But she's not on the team, so it doesn't really affect anything against the Russians. Pretty much everybody knows everybody. We don't really care who is from where when we play against one another. Then when you play against them in a Fed Cup situation, you know, they're no longer your friend anyway. You got to win. It doesn't really change things that much.

Q. Knowing some of the Russian players, how do you feel the Russian tennis program, is it in any way similar to the Czech program that you grew up with?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Well, I think there's been a lot of misconception with the Czech tennis program and the Russian tennis program. I know with the Czech program, they said, "Isn't it great, the program is producing so many great players." Just about every single one of those great players was a product of their family being a tennis family, and them bringing them up. Lendl, myself, Mandlikova and Helena Sukova, we all had tennis parents or tennis-involved parents. It was because of the parents that we prospered. The program allowed us to travel and play tournaments and gave us financial support that way, but as far as actual hitting tennis balls, they really didn't help me at all. With the Russian program, I think it's the same thing. I'm not sure exactly what the program is that they have here. But, again, all the Russian players, they all have -- their parents are involved, and they're coaches still. You know, you can talk all you want about the programs anywhere, but if the parents aren't a hundred percent behind it, it's not going to happen. So there you are.

Q. How would you account for the dramatic increase in Russians playing at the top level of the game? Do you think it could have happened anywhere, at any time?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Well, I think the reason you have a lot more Russian women now that are successful than in the past, there were very good Russian players, but they didn't really have the opportunity to travel or they would travel for one, two, three years. Then they were 20 when they started hitting their stride, and the Federation wouldn't send them out anymore, they would get the next 16-year-old, 17-year-old out there. There was one player a couple years younger than me, big, strong, good player, but she was headstrong and argued with the officials. I think last time she went out was 18 or 19. She was close to Top 10 in the world. That was the communist system that really killed a lot of potential, unfortunately, which is why I had to leave the country. But they didn't even have the opportunity to do that really. For the Russians, it would have been a lot more difficult because they knew there were a lot more repercussions if they left the country. Their family was really in trouble as far as maybe going to jail and things like that, whereas in Czechoslovakia, it was a lot easier. I mean, my father lost his job, and couldn't really go on progressing within the system. My mother had a harder time finding a job. My sister couldn't go into the school she wanted to go, but that's as far as it went. Whereas in Russia, if you left the country, your family was going to be in trouble, serious trouble. So the Russians didn't leave, but they didn't have the chance to develop as tennis players. So the talent's always been there, but it's just now, the last 10 years, that it wasn't really restricted.

Q. What was the thinking behind the decision to only let a few people travel at a given time?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: I think the reason more players didn't travel, it was control really. If they had 10 players out there going around the world, they couldn't -- they always had people traveling with them, keeping an eyeball on them. Money, I guess. They couldn't really afford it and couldn't control them. At the same time, the players, if they really got good, they were bringing money in. So I was surprised they didn't open it up a little more. They were sort of nearsighted in that regard. Never mind it was the right thing to do, it just didn't enter into their head.

Q. Andrei Chesnokov told me people would follow him around when he used to travel. Did you have that same experience?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: We didn't have people following us around as much as we had people with us, always a coach. So we were still able to go, go shopping, go sight-seeing, just the players without the coach. We had a lot more freedom. Again, the Russians were much more restricted. Even if they thought they were alone, they would have the KGB keeping an eye on them. As far as I know, I wasn't followed. Like, you know, if my friend and I went sight-seeing in Rome all day, we never saw anybody walking around behind us. But it's possible they were there, we just didn't know it. I didn't care, quite frankly. We just did our thing. I know after I defected, then I was followed for a while. So possibly here and there they would go, but then again, it was too expensive, so they didn't do it.

Q. I understand you weren't able to see your parents for a number of years after you left. How did it come about you were able to see them?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Well, I couldn't see my mother for four years, my dad and sister for five years. They finally let my mom come to Wimbledon to watch me play in '79. Then 1980, the whole family got a traveling visa to basically immigrate, if they wanted to. They got a two-year visa. If they wanted to go, and live in the States, anywhere else, they could have. They stayed almost a year, they went back. My father had a hard time adjusting to the American way. So they went back. Then I could only see them maybe once a year. Even after that, they had a hard time getting a visa to come and travel. Interesting enough, my grandmother could come. She came to visit me in '79. Also my parents, once they got the pension, they allowed them to go anytime they wanted to. That was because if they defected, they wouldn't have to pay their pension. That's why my grandmother was able to come.

Q. Were you ever denied exit visas when you were a player traveling?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: The reason I defected in the first place because I had a really hard time getting a visa in '75 to play the US Open. I was already getting some unease about what they would let me do and not to. When I almost didn't come to the US Open because of politics, then I decided, "If I ever get out again, that's it, I'm not coming back." As it turned out, I got the visa for the States in the summer, and I stayed.

Q. Did they ever say to you they were displeased with something you said?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Oh, yeah. I had to toe the line. The Federation a few times told me I couldn't -- they actually told me I was too Americanized, I wasn't socializing enough with the Russian and Czech players. I was hanging out too much with Chris Evert, Billie Jean King. That was about the same year that it all happened. Things just started falling apart. I knew I wouldn't be able to stay behind and pretend, because that was never my style.

Q. Did the Russians at one point have a ban on their players playing in tournaments that involved South Africans?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: There were all kinds of bans going on, the Russians had them, the Czechs had them, East Germans could never get out. There was a very good East German player, actually a boyfriend of mine for a while when we were Juniors. He would have won Wimbledon for sure. He couldn't get out to play any tournaments in the west. He only could play the communist tournaments, you know, in the communist countries. I got in trouble because I played doubles with Ilana Kloss one year, who was from South Africa. Couldn't play with players from Chile. Couldn't play with players from I think Israel. There were all kinds of shenanigans that went on that I ended up playing with a guy -- I wanted to play with a guy from Chile, and I couldn't, so I played with a guy from Colombia at the French Open. We won anyway. It was odd when you had to pick your partner depending on what country they were from. Again, for tennis players, it's such a foreign aspect. People say, "What about being with a Russian or a German or African American, lesbian?" "I don't care, can she hit a forehand? How well does she serve and volley? Does she mesh with me as a doubles partner?" That's all you care about. Where they're from makes no difference. It was difficult to think, "I want to play with that one. I can't because she is Russian." That's kind of bull, yeah.

Q. Do the Russian players today that you know are playing, were their careers shaped in the United States or Europe to some extent? I know some of them travel to the Bollettieri academy to train. Is that becoming sort of unusual?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Well, Bollettieri, the tennis camps, are getting the cream of the crop from all the countries. Doesn't matter where you're from. Again, that's where you go. The tennis academies, they produce. You hit thousands and thousands of balls every day. You become a good groundstroker. You don't really become a good tennis player, but you became a great groundstroker. That takes a lot of people a long way. It's not just the Russians that are going there, it's everybody really.

Q. I've heard that when Anna Kournikova was very young, she had a surprisingly strong serve-and-volley game. Did you watch her growing up?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: I'd rather not talk about Anna Kournikova especially more than the other players. Again, the academy, I don't think they produce all-around players, people even that might like to come to the net. Apparently Anna Kournikova liked to serve and volley. I did not see her play when she was young. She was a lot more aggressive. She was a great doubles player. But the academy doesn't really encourage that. They really just hit forehands and backhands. They teach you an okay serve, then they send you out to play. They don't really make you into a total tennis player. That's a shame, because they have the possibilities there. I think they will go there in the future, because now everybody hits the ball well from the baseline. That's the common denominator. But now, who is going to win? It's the person that can also come to the net.

Q. Which of the Russian players do you think shows the most promise right now? Maybe there's more than one.

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Which of the Russians would be the best? I think I like Petrova's game. I like her demeanor also. She's got a good attitude for the most part. All the Russians, emotionally they can go down really quickly, are very up and down. Myskina, she's a great player, in the Top 10, best year of her life, and half the time on the court she looks like she doesn't really want to be there. She works hard, practices hard, all that. Svetlana, my doubles partner, same thing. She's like a tortured soul on the court. It's like, "Do you want to be here or do you want to be somewhere else?" I think it's the genetic makeup they have to overcome being Russian. Petrova I like a lot because she's got a big serve, she can mix it up, she can volley. She's trying to be a good all-around player. Same with Bovina. Big girl, big serve. They play doubles. It's helped them I think in their singles games. They have the potential. But especially Petrova I think has the potential to really get into the Top 10 and mix it with the big girls.

Q. Would you like to play Russia in the final?

MARTINA NAVRATILOVA: Who we play never makes any difference. You might want to play somebody more than the other person or the other team because you would match up better with them. But I don't know if we would match up better with the Russians or the French. Doesn't really matter. In a way it would be easier to play the French because you don't have to deal with the crowd, because they were pretty crazy here. It's different for Americans playing outside because in America, the crowd is pretty fair. They don't really heckle. But you get into another country, and they can get pretty rabid. It might be easier to play the French. But it doesn't really matter. I think we match up pretty well against either team by the same way. We'll just see what happens.

End of FastScripts….

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