Martina Joins Classic's 30th Celebrations
Published June 11, 2011 11:17
BIRMINGHAM, England - All-time great Martina Navratilova, who counts two Birmingham singles crowns among her haul of 167 singles titles, was a special guest at the AEGON Classic this weekend. The occasion was the 30th anniversary celebrations of the grass court tournament, which the former world No.1 won twice, in 1989 and 1991.
As well as attending a cocktail party at the nearby Barber Institute of Fine Art's Court On Canvas exhibition, Navratilova took part in an on-court ceremony before Saturday's semifinals. She was joined by 1969 Wimbledon champion Ann Jones, who lives locally, and Lisa Raymond, who won the singles here in 2000, as well as WTA chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster.
"I played some great matches on the courts here as I made my final preparations for Wimbledon and I am delighted to have been asked to come back to help commemorate this milestone for the tournament," Navratilova said. "The Edgbaston Priory Club holds some special memories for me."
Navratilova, who is in fact an honorary international member of the club, welcomed the Lawn Tennis Association's decision to invest £5 million on development of the tournament venue. Under the scheme a new clubhouse, indoor center and permanent center court will be built.
"I saw the plans for what is coming next year and in 2013, it's going to be much improved which is good," the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion said. "To make a permanent center court would give it a bit of clout and would be popular with the players as well.
"If you have a choice between tournaments, you think which is in a nice city, which practice courts are best, where the food and facilities are good."
Navratilova also had a funny story to share about the notoriously changeable weather in the West Midlands, where Birmingham is situated.
"I was always told we had to worry about the rain, but when I first came here the weather was brilliant," she recalled. "However, in the semifinals in 1989 we had to wait because the sprinklers went off. There was no rain, but the courts got rained on when somebody pushed the wrong button. My match was delayed anyway, which was ironic!"
Even so, Navratilova, said she wished she could have played the event more often, her three visits coming towards the end of her main playing career. "When I was getting to the finals at Roland Garros, it was hard to come here too," she said. "I was playing Eastbourne and then you go straight to Wimbledon. Ideally, you could play all the lead-ups you wanted and then have a week off before The Championships.
"It would be great to have a longer grass-court season and more grass-court tournaments but Wimbledon is always the last week of June and the first week of July. Why don't they move it? I suppose because it's always been that way," she laughed. "But then I'd think you'd find more grass court tournaments springing up."
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