Martina's lessons

Martina's lessons
SIGHTSEEING: Navratilova touring the food street in Chinatown yesterday as part of her visit to Singapore.

Martina Navratilova hardly ever lost her cool in an extraordinary Slam-making career, she won mostly easily, and when she did lose, it was with sporting grace.

At 57, her professional career has been over for a while now, her successes on the tennis court the stuff of legend.

Still friendly, confident, engaging and fit, Navratilova did use a four-letter word, though, when I asked her yesterday what a country like Singapore needs to produce world champions.

"Luck," she said, almost immediately.

"You can do everything right. You can have the coaches and 1,000 great kids playing the game, and you still won't get anyone.

"Or you could get one champion, or even two in that bunch, like Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters, who came out of Belgium at the same time.

"So many things have to come together - you need the numbers, the courts, great coaching, and luck, because I'm not questioning the diligence of the kids."

Love for the game completes the formula, according to Navratilova.

That was her message when she spoke to young athletes at the Singapore Sports Institute on Thursday, and it also peppered her conversation at breakfast yesterday at Marina Bay Sands.

Flanked by Singapore swimming greats Patricia Chan and Joscelin Yeo and bowling luminary Adelene Wee, she said: "Most of all I loved what I was doing.

"Love of the sport is what gets you through the day. Love of the game, whether you're a six-year-old or 36 years old. "If you don't love the sport, get out of the game."

Let's adopt the 57-year-old, I say, because she gets it.

As Singapore continues its quest to regain its sporting culture, hiring the 57-year-old Czech-born American as a sports ambassador would be a smart move.

The Women's Tennis Association (WTA) gets it.

Navratilova is the Legend Ambassador for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, which will be held at the Indoor Stadium for the next five years, starting this October.

She cracked the code early and now owns 18 Grand Slam women's singles titles, along with a whole of host of other trophies. Today, she has a partner and two children and continues to live and breathe sport.

She always wants to be the best she can be at any sport, which is why she had coaching when she had fun with ice hockey.

She clearly appreciated Jos' comment, when the former swim queen with 40 South-east Asia (SEA) Games gold medals talked about her lonely, metronomic pursuit of excellence in the pool.

"I didn't see it as missing out on life, when it is actually a way of life to me," said the SEA Games' greatest gold-medal machine. Navratilova watched Rod Laver "live" in Prague at the age of nine.

"I already knew I wanted to be Wimbledon champion, but watching Rod Laver, and he was a leftie as well, that cemented it for me." The end-of-season WTA Finals will feature the top eight female players in the world, along with the best eight doubles pairs. And she feels it is a golden opportunity for Singapore.

"When youngsters watch Serena (Williams), Maria Sharapova and, hopefully, Li Na, if she recovers from injury, some of them will say that's what I want to be.

"It could plant the seed for a future Singapore champion."

Navratilova says she loves hitting the tennis ball where she wants it to go.

She is open to coaching, but only if someone comes calling, because she doesn't need it.

And she prefers to do it with youngsters, clearly relishing the challenge of turning them into champions. "Most of all I want to coach someone who wants to pick up the ball and come back to me," she said.

"That means they want to train."

She is a teacher, of sport and life.

I'd sign her on at once.


This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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