Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
On this day 39 years ago, the face of women’s tennis was dramatically reshaped when Martina Navratilova, a 21-year-old native of Czechoslovakia, defeated Chris Evert 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 to capture the Ladies’ Singles at The Championships 1978.
It was the first Wimbledon for the left-handed serve and volley specialist, who went on to win a total of 20 singles and doubles titles at The Championships and established herself in the process as arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time.
The Wimbledon Compendium has described the 1978 tournament as “a dull and wet meeting” in which seven days were interrupted by rain, but Martina lit up the second Friday that year (the Ladies’ final was played on that day back then) with the most lively serve-volley game seen in women’s tennis for a long time.
Hers was a game tailor-made for the quick responses of the All England Club turf and it proved too much, if only just, for the top seed and already twice-winner (1974 and 1976) from Florida, an early instalment in what was to become the biggest rivalry in women’s tennis for a decade.
There had been a near-calamitous shock for Navratilova in the semi-finals when Yvonne Goolagong Cawley led 4-3 in the final set until being seriously handicapped by injury and failing to win another game.
Wimbledon is like a drug. Once you win it for the first time you feel you’ve just got to do it again and again.
Perhaps the memory of that narrow escape lingered on the day of the final, but Navratilova, error prone and hesitant, lost the opening set 6-2 to the confident, elegant Evert. Though the Czech girl took the next set 6-4 there was another potential setback in the final set, in which Evert led 4-2 and 5-4, before what was to become a familiar Navratilova blitz swept her to victory by taking the next three games.
This from a woman who had never seen a grass court in her life until her first appearance at Wimbledon in 1973. The 1978 success started a very special love affair with the turf of Wimbledon for Martina. Years later she explained, “Wimbledon is like a drug. Once you win it for the first time you feel you’ve just got to do it again and again.”
That is precisely, of course, what she proceeded to do, capturing the singles crown nine times (including six in succession from 1982 to 1987) and the only sad note of that joyful 1978 afternoon was that her parents, Jana and Miroslav Navratil, were unable to witness their daughter’s achievement, having been denied permission to leave the country by the Czech authorities.
Navratilova had defected to the United States in 1975, overcoming an early desire to gorge on the good life after a lean one growing up, just in time to realise her full potential as the new power in the women’s game and become world number one.
Even before she became a US citizen in 1981 Navratilova was declared persona non grata by the Czech Communist regime and, when they were forced to acknowledge a Martina triumph she was always referred as “a person” or in the results “another person”.
She went on to win 167 career titles and spent 332 weeks as world number one but the moment that truly ignited a remarkable career for someone who is back at her beloved Wimbledon once again this year, was that afternoon when a “dull and wet” Championships was well and truly ignited.