Martina Navratilova had just finished routing Chris Evert Lloyd 6-3, 6-1 in the finals of the French Open. The score was devastating enough, but, as Lloyd gracefully acknowledged, Martina’s victory was also historically significant. By winning the French Open, Navratilova, 27, had become one of only five players in tennis history to win the Grand Slam of tennis: consecutive victories in the world’s four major tournaments, Wimbledon, and the French, U.S. and Australian Opens.
“Je vous aime,” she told the French audience upon accepting the trophy and the $98,550 winner’s check. Then she rushed back to her hotel, threw on an amber silk dress and raced back to Roland Garros Stadium for another ceremony. There, Philippe Chatrier, president of the International Tennis Federation, presented her with a bonus, a small piece of paper imprinted with the words, “One million dollars only.” A delighted Navratilova stuck the check in her alligator purse, noting, “When you win $25,000 at a small tennis tournament they give you a check the size of a house, but when it’s $1 million, it’s the size of a parking ticket.”
A similar ceremony took place a day later and 4,000 miles away in the Philadelphia suburb of Malvern. There, golfer Patty Sheehan picked up a $500,000 bonus for winning two LPGA tournaments over a designated three-week span. Said Sheehan, 27, “It’s nice to have for my retirement.”
It was fitting that Navratilova should mark her achievement on the baked red clay of Roland Garros. Exactly one year earlier she had suffered an unexpected and humiliating fourth-round loss there to Kathy Horvath, ranked only 33rd in the world at the time. Bitter, Martina jettisoned coach Renee Richards and signed up Mike Estep, a onetime player on the men’s tour. Her instructions to Estep were simple: “I want to win the Grand Slam and be the greatest player who ever lived.”
The Grand Slam, which traditionally consists of winning all four major tournaments in one calendar year, has been achieved only by Don Budge in 1938, Maureen Connolly in 1953, Rod Laver in 1962 and 1969, and Margaret
Court in 1970. In 1982 the ITF redefined the Grand Slam as four consecutive victories that could span two calendar years, as Martina’s did, and put up a $1 million bonus for any player who accomplished the feat. Budge, now 68, was on hand for the bonus presentation and exclaimed, “I never thought tennis would come to this. When I did it, I got nothing. But then, my expenses were only $18 per day.”
The money was just icing for Navratilova, who has earned close to $8 million since she defected from Czechoslovakia at the U.S. Open in 1975. In her younger days she squandered large sums in buying binges. Now she is a model of fiscal responsibility. “I’ll send it to my accountant in L.A.,” she declared. “He’ll pay the taxes and bills and invest the rest. I’ll use some of the money to fix up the new town house I bought in Fort Worth.” Part of the money may be channeled into the Martina Navratilova Youth Foundation, which sponsors tennis clinics for foster children across America.
On the night of her victory Navratilova celebrated at a small party for 40 friends at the Crillon Hotel in Paris. By 11:30 she was back in her hotel room resting for the women’s doubles finals the next day. As if two weeks of demanding tennis had been a light workout, Navratilova and partner Pam Shriver took the title over Czechoslovakia’s Hana Mandlikova and West Germany’s Claudia Kohde-Kilsch 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, completing a comparable Grand Slam of women’s doubles. “People may say its boring to have a champ like her,” says tennis designer Ted Tinling, “but historically it’s very exceptional.”
Navratilova’s goal of becoming the greatest player who ever lived is of quite a different order. “If Pam or anyone else starts to beat me, maybe I’ll poison their water on the change-overs,” she jokes. But with few serious challengers on the horizon, the queen of tennis has temporarily lowered her sights. “My next goal is to bankrupt the International Tennis Federation by winning the Grand Slam again.”