Martina Navratilova’s Dominance at the WTA Tour Finals
In the roaring and soaring ’80s, Martina Navratilova had her eyes set on three tournaments above all others: Wimbledon, the US Open, and the WTA Tour Finals. While the Australian Open and the French Open held less significance for American players back then, the year-end WTA Finals was a highly anticipated event.
Navratilova recently reflected on the importance of the WTA Finals, stating, “It was our event. For those supporting the tour, it meant a lot in many different ways. The prize money was massive, much bigger than the majors, for many years. And it was one week of work instead of two. How great is that?”
Navratilova’s dominance at the WTA Finals, formerly known as the Virginia Slims Championships, is unparalleled. She won eight singles titles, three more than her closest competitors Serena Williams and Steffi Graf. Additionally, she claimed an astonishing 13 doubles championships, which may explain why the year-end doubles trophy now bears her name.
A Record-Breaking Career
With a career resume that boasts 18 Grand Slam singles titles and 31 doubles titles, Navratilova places her WTA Finals victories in high regard. When asked about their significance, she confidently stated, “At least it should be up there with the majors, same level if you totaled it up that way.”
Pam Shriver, Navratilova’s partner for the last 10 of her doubles titles, goes even further in praising her achievements. Shriver believes that Navratilova’s eight singles and 13 doubles titles at the Finals are among the greatest single-event records in tennis. She compares them to Rafael Nadal’s 14 titles at Roland Garros, emphasizing their remarkable nature.
A Perfect Fit for Madison Square Garden
Navratilova, born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, found herself perfectly suited for the raucous atmosphere of Madison Square Garden. After winning her first WTA Finals singles title in Oakland, California, she went on to claim the next seven in New York City.
Navratilova attributes her success at the Garden to the carpet surface, which provided a lower ball bounce similar to the grass courts at Wimbledon. She also thrived off the energy of the passionate and knowledgeable fans, who filled the arena with 15,000 to 20,000 spectators.
Interestingly, the crisp lighting at Madison Square Garden enhanced Navratilova’s attacking style, allowing her to see the ball clearly and execute her net game effectively.
A Format That Played to Navratilova’s Strengths
The WTA Finals featured a best-of-five-set championship format from 1984 to 1998, which played to Navratilova’s strengths. She fondly recalls the format, stating, “That was fun. I wish we had 3-out-of-5 in the majors because it takes a lot of stress off and puts fitness more into play.”
Navratilova’s dominance extended beyond the Finals. In 1986, during the transition of the WTA Tour to a fall schedule, she won two championship finals, one in March and another in November. Throughout her career, she reached a staggering 14 singles finals, losing only to formidable opponents such as Chris Evert, Tracy Austin, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles.
However, in doubles, Navratilova’s record remains unblemished. She advanced to 13 finals and emerged victorious in all of them. Her partnership with Pam Shriver was particularly remarkable, resulting in a glorious run of 10 doubles titles in 11 years.
A Legacy That Will Stand the Test of Time
Navratilova’s dominance at the WTA Tour Finals, both in singles and doubles, solidifies her place among the tennis greats. Her record-breaking achievements, combined with her remarkable career resume, make her one of the most accomplished players in the history of the sport.
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