A queen holds court

SINGAPORE - Martina Navratilova got her wish when she lugged two kilogrammes of mangosteen back to her hotel room on Thursday.

Sitting down with Singapore's tennis juniors and current and past players at the Singapore Sports Institute yesterday, the 57-year-old revealed she cannot get enough of the fruit.

"They're my favourite fruit, but you can't get them everywhere," said the legend.

"I discovered them about 20 years ago and every time I come to South-east Asia, I ask people to bring me mangosteens.

"At the hotel, they brought me just two, so I went out and bought some more."

Navratilova, one of the most dominant athletes in history across any sport, yearns to see the sport she ruled from the 1970s to the '80s embrace finesse once more.

When asked if there was anything about modern tennis that she did not fancy, she said: "It's not a dislike, it's just the way the game is now, both the men and women.

"They're hitting the ball harder and there's less variety. You don't see players going to the net and setting up the shots and the rallies the way we had to.

"It was more like a chess game when I was playing.

"Nowadays, power talks. The players are stronger and faster. But the variety is missing. Everybody can put pace on the ball, very few can take pace off it. The finesse is what I miss."

The 18-time singles Grand Slam winner named her favourites for the US Open, which will begin in New York on Aug 25.

Dark Horse

"(Jo-Wilfried) Tsonga played great in (the Rogers Cup in) Toronto, but it's hard to pick him as a Grand Slam winner because he's never done it before, but he's certainly a dark horse," she said.

"Roger Federer is playing well too, but it's hard to go against Novak Djokovic.

"He's just so fast, so solid and he'll be very motivated to do well there. He'll be focused too, particularly after winning Wimbledon this summer.

"On the women's side, it'd be a good way for Serena (Williams) to salvage what has been a very disappointing year for her.

"We'll see how she's holding up, but I think she's using the summer to get her tennis together.

"So she has to be a favourite. She's the defending champion too, so she'll be hard to beat."

Navratilova was in chirpy mood during the 45-minute session with a 50-strong crowd, raising much laughter when she was asked what has changed about Singapore since she was last here.

"I see you've added a few kilometres of land," she answered.

"There used to be a beach near the Raffles Hotel, now there are buildings.

"It's amazing what you've done with the city and what I really like is the combination of the old and new."

She spoke on a variety of topics, including how she first picked up tennis, her love for the sport - "how can I get bored when the ball never comes back over the net the same way twice?" - and how Singapore can go about producing a world-class talent.

"It takes time, it takes numbers - you've got to get kids playing - and the right coaching, because it doesn't matter how big (a country) you might be, if you don't get the right guidance, it's not going to happen for you."

Navratilova also spoke passionately when giving advice to the youngsters in the crowd, preaching the importance of letting the body recover after training and how vital the right attitude and work ethic are in getting to the top.

BNP Paribas Finals

After her week-long stay here, Navratilova will be back in October when she plays in the 2014 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global.

The tournament, which features the top-eight women's singles players in the world rankings and the top-eight doubles pairs, will be held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium from Oct 17 to 26.

Navratilova said: "Asian tennis is growing - Li Na has had a big hand in that, being the first Asian player to win a Grand Slam - and now we have these Championships in Singapore.

"It's great that it (the deal) is for five years, so it really has a chance to get established here and, hopefully, it'll grow the sport some more.

"The thing about tennis now and 20 years ago is that it's much more international, and it's great it's much more diversified.

"It makes sense that, tennis being that much more international, comes to an international place like Singapore."


This article was first published on MONTH DAY, 2014.
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