Navratilova's Nostalgic Week in Prague
Published May 14, 2006 12:00
PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Although it didn't have a fairy tale ending, the return of Martina Navratilova to her former homeland of the Czech Republic this past week for the ECM Prague Open 2006 by Ceska sporitelna was still an emotional, cathartic experience.
The 49-year-old, who fled the former Czechoslovakia in 1975 and became an American citizen back in 1981, was making her first professional appearance here in 20 years, after helping the Americans tackle the Czechs during the 1986 Fed Cup final.
Seeded No.1 alongside young Czech player Barbora Strycova, Navratilova received a standing ovation before and after her much-anticipated first appearance back in the Czech capital, her birthplace. Her first match back ended in a comprehensive 62 63 win over Olga Blahotova and Ahsha Rolle (another Czech-American pair). The capacity crowd of 4,000's showing of appreciation nearly brought Navratilova to tears.
"It was an experience I wouldn't change for anything else," Navratilova said. "I had to keep myself from crying. But there can't be too much nostalgia, or we would lose quickly."
In a surprisingly quick turn of events, the sentimental favorites were ousted in the second round, 64 62, by Americans Ashley Harkleroad and Bethanie Mattek-Sands. The unseeded duo would eventually prove to be one of the top performers of the week, making the final before falling to Shahar Peer and Marion Bartoli.
"We didn't play as well as we did in the first match," Navratilova said. "It's a pity. I had hoped for a better result. I did what I could but was not able to prevent the loss.
"Although we have lost much earlier than we would have wanted, playing in Prague was an amazing experience that I would never trade for anything."
Navratilova is a former world No.1, a 167-time Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles titlist and a 175-time Tour doubles titlist. The Sarasota resident's most recent title came last summer in Toronto, capturing the doubles with Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld. Her best result this season so far is a runner-up finish with South Africa's Liezel Huber in Miami.