What should I ask Martina Navratilova?

I will be having a Conversation with her on March 19, in Arlington at George Mason University.  So what should I ask?

I thank you all in advance for your usual enthusiasm and sagacity.


Why does professional tennis remain inaccessible to players from low-income states? From the outside, it does not appear that capital is the barrier. Athleticism and training appear to be the key drivers of success, and these do not seem to be inaccessible to players from low-income states. So what explains the OECD dominance of tennis?

It is harder to get access to doping products without funding or if you don't come from a country with know-how.

Yes, the cost of racquets and balls is not stopping low-income people from entering the sport, but the cost of training is. An amateur player needs self-support himself/herself and that requires access to a coach and tennis facility, what 10 hours a day? That is the expensive part. And that's why even within the OECD countries, there are very few players from low-income families. With all the other major sports (in the U.S.) high-schools, colleges, or minor-league systems are providing those facilities so low-income players are more likely to enter.

I suppose you can then ask why aren't low-income states developing national programs to provide those facilities? My guess is that tennis is too much of an individual sport for a country to put that much effort in a national program. But it would be interesting to hear Martina's perspective.

Yes, not only is tennis an individual sport, it's a tremendously space-inefficient one. It's pretty easy to train a bunch of physically talented runners without dedicated facilities, but any good tennis training center is going to need courts, and lots of them.

Jeff gets it. It is the cost of coaching.

Also it is relatively expensive compared to other sports like running or team sports.

Was John McEnroe right?

Yes, good one.


What will it mean for "women's tennis" when, not if, anatomically male women begin competing as women?

Isn't it inevitable that anatomically female women be driven out of competitive sports at the professional level?

Are there any circumstances in which it would be appropriate to maintain a distinction between anatomically female women and anatomically male women?

I think there was an old articles somewhere about that, essentially, when anatomically female women were given a bunch of tests relating to, I believe, testosterone levels and then barred from playing. I think it was all related to the same problem in Olympic testing of women.

What is the best way to improve your tennis game.

Why are so many greats doing great into their mid 30s?

Is there something special going on, greatness-wise, among tennis siblings?

+1 - great question (why are tennis players doing so well in their 30s compared to the past), I'd really like to hear some explanations for that one

Probably something similar to what happens in other sports (e.g. Lebron in basketball or Brady in football) -- some combination of better nutritional and training science, more resources thrown at these things, and HGH?

1. Vegetarianism overrated or underrated?

2. While there is talk of "diversity" everywhere why is sport strangely taking an anti diversity line. Particularly tennis. Should we not have an equal number of clay court, grass court and hard court tournaments to encourage diversity in playing styles and all round play?

How come Cowan has not used the H-word in his interviews? Hypocrite. Or the P-word? What economists and fiction writers and tennis players and golfers have in common? Prophet?

How do you think the WTA (and the ATP, for that matter) should decide upon the surface characteristics across the major tournaments, both in terms of absolute and relative characteristics? For example, how much faster should Wimbledon's grass be than the French's clay? Where do the Australian and the U.S. Opens fit in? Should we have faster courts overall--a la the early 2000s--or the much slower courts of, say, roughly 2008 to the present? Is it fair to have the finals always played on indoor hard courts?

Should men and women tennis players continue to receive the same (tournament) compensation? Should women receive more?

What is the easiest thing about tennis as a player (either for her or in general)?

What question doe she most frequently ask herself?

What role did creative destruction play in her training.

The most interesting question is normally the one you're not allowed to ask. That's especially so here.

In your prime, were you better than Serena Williams? You climbed the highest mountain in tennis, so why would you attempt to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, doing so considered an act of vanity by mostly middle-aged men seeking quality time away from their families. Is tennis an actual sport or is it just an event to attract an audience to media, media being the actual business not tennis? Absent media, would the tennis tour exist? Would the golf tour exist? What was your favorite tennis tournament? Are you and Chris Evert friends? Is Ms. Evert the pain in the ass that she is depicted to be? What is your handicap in golf? What do you and your wife do on Sundays (to repeat the question the NYT asks celebrities, writers, etc.)?

I joined a hiking club a few years back. It was fun. We camped and did a number of California peaks. But the one thing that got old was hearing every darn hiker's Kilimanjaro story. By no means limited to middle aged men.

What is this story like, usually? I imagine if it gets old they're all pretty much the same?

Every time I heard it, there was something about a leopard.

The stories were really just a sentence or two, more name dropping and status signalling than a real story.

On the other hand, my friend who hiked Machu Picchu had a pretty good story. They were robbed by bandits, who, after taking all the valuables asked the men for all their pants. The women were left alone. Bandito code.

(My friend was one of the women, left with her trousers.)

As a gay woman, does she really think gay marriage is such a big deal? I guess she had a decent enough love life right upto the early 2010s. Did the gay marriage legalization make her life "better" in any respect?

Why do gays, who pride themselves on their unconventionality, seek the seal of the state and the marriage certificate, to feel complete? How is gay marriage "better" than a civil union contract?

You sure about your assumption about priding themselves on unconventionality? Sounds like your idea gay people is not from real life.

Would going back to wooden rackets make current female pros more or less likely to be able to compete against current male pros?

If she were starting over as a youngster, would she want to learn the two-handed backhand?

As a consumer of the US's immigration system, both as an asylum seeker and US citizenship attainer, what would be her prescriptions to improve the experience for the greatest number of people (not just through the obvious solution of greatly increasing legal immigration, but through other shorter term and specialized statuses as well).

1- how much tennis does she play these days ?

2- who are her favorite tennis players to watch today and of all time and why ?

3- did she like the “ battle of the sexes movie “?

yes, I like question 2.

In the early part of her career, she had a little bit of a reputation as a doughy underachiever. Anyway, that's how I remember it. I would love to know if there was an inciting incident that triggered her transformation into a great champion? Was it just a general maturing that happens to everyone or was there something specific that sparked her?

I've read several articles that described how meeting and talking deeply with basketball player Nancy Lieberman was a transforming event; I think Navratilova herself has said so also.

This article makes clear there was also a years-long process of regaining her equilibrium and adjusting to America after defecting.

Is it possible to complete at a high level in women's tennis anymore without PED's?

What would she have been in the world rankings among men at her peak?

If Roger Federer were transgender female, should he be allowed to play on the women's tour?

There are no good movies about tennis. Why not?

I asked my wife, who is a big Tennis fan, what to ask Ms. Navratilova and her response was "Can you punch John McEnroe in the face the next time you see him?" So not much help.

What's improved most since you were in your prime, gym training, practice training, strategy, or equipment?

If we teleported the 1984 version of you to July 2018, how far would she get at Wimbledon? Please answer for some combination of women's singles, men's singles, women's doubles, or mixed doubles.

What was the hardest part about adjusting to life in the United States after emigrating from Czechoslovakia? If you were coming up today, would you still have moved to America or stayed in the Czech Republic?
Alternately, would you recommend a promising young tennis player in Prague move to the USA to train?

Does the Czech (or eastern European) experience under Communism make them incapable of accepting the sort of European Union France, Germany and the Low countries desire?

Does being good at a sport make you an interesting interview subject?

I know this interview will happen after the Olympics, but does she prefer watching individual or pairs figure skating?

Did she find being left handed to be an advantage or disadvantage?

Milan Kundera; underrated or overrated?

Ask whether she could beat today's players in her prime.

Please ask her when she thinks a robot will beat the top players: 2021 or 2022?

Pssht, what a luddite you are. 2020 at the latest.

It will happen August 20th in 2021. I'm just curious if she gets it correct.

Did Bobby Riggs throw the match to Billie Jean King?

What does she think of intergenerational player comparisons in tennis and other sports? Does it make sense to compare Federer to Sampras or Laver? If it does make sense, them how much progress has there been in the skill / ability of tennis players over the Open Era?

It doesn't make sense in most ball games because the relative competition faced by each player is different in every era.

One exception to this is the game of cricket, which Americans aren't too familiar with. In Cricket, performance statistics have interestingly proved to be insensitive to the standards of the competition. Eg : The Batting and bowling averages have remained stable across eras. Even international batting averages aren't necessarily massively lower than domestic batting averages for most batsmen as one would expect.

Given the stability of the metrics and the huge role played by extraneous factors (like pitch and weather), it is in fact possible in cricket to make inter-generational comparisons.

Not so in most other ball games.

Subarus - overrated or underrated?

I have a 4 year old daughter who is learning to play tennis. What is the best approach to make her excel and love the sport of tennis. She is taking a lesson one day a week from a local coach currently.

Typically rich people build their kids a tennis court...

Not that rich, although my rather small backyard would make for a nice level court. I kind of toyed with the idea, but the community certainly wouldnt allow it and getting the ground perfectly leveled for it would probably cost way more than I'd want.

Andre Agassi's biography describes how his dad got him to excel and hate the sport. Might be worth reading. At least the first 70% before it starts to drag.

Yeah I remember hearing about how Agassi hated the sport. I can't imagine my daughter being one of top 1% that goes pro. A scholarship to college would be nice though.. and maybe a love for a game she could play her whole life.

The underhand serve: Do most pros consider its use “unethical, though legal”? If so, why? Why would its use be considered unethical or “amateur” even though a regular drop shot in the course of a rally isn’t considered unethical?

The “reverse slice” service, also known simply as the “reverse” – essentially a serve hit by a right-hander, though with slice or swerve akin to a slice by a lefty – is an unusual serve used in the pre-1930s occasionally, but has disappeared except as a novelty change-of-pace by a handful of players. It’s not a particularly difficult stroke, or wouldn’t be, for the scores of players who already use a semi-western grip for their forehands. I’ve heard conventional-thinking amateurs say that the reverse slice would only be an effective novelty shot rarely, but should never be a primary or secondary serve – because opponents would get used to it. That strikes me as a silly argument; after all, players see plenty of slice, kick, and flat serves, and apparently “don’t get used to them.” Any comment?

In the pre-Open Era days particularly, barnstorming pros often played indoors on slick wooden courts, obviously an ideal surface for a powerful server. The surface persisted in a diminishing number of venues into the 1980s. Did you ever play on that surface early in your career? Do you believe that a wood-surface tournament or two, obviously friendly to excellent serve-and-volleyers, would be a worthwhile addition to the contemporary ATP and WTA tours?

In the latter 1970s when the now-outlawed “spaghetti stringing” was used to great effect by some lower-ranked players to upset the likes of Nastase, Vilas, Stan Smith,and some others, in 1978 the ITF got into regulating not only strings but also rackets. This was a big change in the sport, when previously tennis players theoretically could use a racket of any length, strung in any pattern and with any kind of material, with no prohibition. (1) Did you ever try the spaghetti-string pattern? (2) Did you ever play against an opponent using spaghetti stringing? (3) Do you believe the ITF overregulates what is permissible in tennis string and racket technology?

[Thanks for considering any of the above.]

Nice technical questions, not sure a former woman jock is qualified to answer these questions, though she might well have opinions.

Martina had a long, successful career in tennis; played and won on all types of court surfaces; was there at the end of the wood-racket era and transitioned to the era of high-tech rackets; and, obviously played scores of opponents who employed different sorts of strokes, spins, tactics, and strategies. I believe she's quite qualified to address most of the proposed topics.

Given the Outback, Forester and Crosstrek are very similar, what kind of Subaru should I buy?

I approve of all the Subaru jokes, but to be briefly serious, the 2.5i Outback will have a lot of space and best mpg. 29 for me over the first 6000 miles. Get the 3.6 only if you really need extra towing capacity.

I am disappointed that this did not become a long and pointless religious war about which Subaru, or engine, was best.

How can we incentivise other lesbian stars (in sports and elsewhere) to come out of the closet? We need more role models like her desperately!

Doubles strategy: In the women's game, we continue to see long cross-court rallies. But, as the men's game has evolved, as advocated by the Bryan brothers, the players poach and generally clog the center more. Is there a reason for this or are the women too hesitant to employ this strategy?

Who has the best year-round tennis school?

Does she follow children's tennis?

Who makes the best tennis shoes?

Does she have any hobbies?

Can she think of an event in her life, something most people don't know about, that fundamentally changed the course of her life?

If she wasn't a tennis player, what does she think would have been her career?

On growing up in a Communist country. To what extent is there such a thing as a national sense of humor? What explains the longevity of today's dominant tennis players? PEDs, then and now. Would she encourage tennis to abandon its prize money structure and instead adopt another model or a league based model? Athletes as activitists. Prague. Pilsner -- the style -- overrated or under. She now lives in Miami -- does she have a favorite "Florida man" story?

Good luck and I hope this helps.

Which major tournament lends itself most to upsets and deep runs by lower ranked players and why?

The serve and volley player seems to be going extinct at a time when other sports are seeing bigger more athletic players dominate dominate in ways that accentuate their combination of size, athleticism, and power. Why? Wouldn't a tennis player with the attributes of Lebron James, for example, be an incredible serve and volley player given athleticism and height and power? Why don't we see those players?

"What do you think of Billie Jean King's book 'Pressure is a Privilege' "? What is your relationship to her?

Why has the U.S men’s tennis collapsed? The last grand slam winner was Andy Roddick - 15 years ago! The tour is entirely dominated by European players. Is this trend related to the decline of life expectancy in the US , ie. a general statement on the level of health care in America?

What was it like emotionally to regain her Czech citizenship? Does she consider Miami to be a Latin American city? What are her favorite Miami restaurants?

Nothing. You shouldn't bother to talk to her.

What has changed in terms of training regimes from when she was learning to play.

Hopefully this could hit many sub-topics.

What is the hardest stroke to play in tennis and why? (used to be considered the backhand volley smash)

Under rated or over rated:

1. Davis Cup
2.Ivan Lendl
3. Wimbledon (the movie) :)

There have been several notable and successful lesbian tennis players, including yourself. But no top male tennis player has come out.* Why do you think this is the case?

[*Here is one exception: https://www.outsports.com/2017/5/12/15626904/former-pro-tennis-player-brian-vahaly-talks-about-being-gay]

How do you adjust to being a regular person after being a top level sports person?

Would you agree that pro tennis is the most socially progressive sport? If so, what features of the game or the tour can that be attributed to? If not, what sports do you think are better and why?

In her autobio, Martina observed that US women such as Chris Evert had to conform to far more rigid gender stereotypes than Czech women like she did. Does Martina still believe that US gender stereotypes are a lot more constricting and universally imposed than in Central Europe or the EU in general today?

When Martina moved to the USA, did she consider other countries? Switzerland in particular seems to have attracted much of the post-1968 Czech elite, for example Martina Hingis's mother, a Czech tennis star. Switzerland also featured in Milan Kunderas novel The Incredible Lightness of Being.

I don't know if she has any special insights, but I wonder what she thinks of Slovakia vs the Czech Republic, either politically or culturally or historically.

That is, I was surprised when the country split. But I know very little about either country; maybe the bigger surprise was that they were stuck together as a single country and stayed together for awhile.

Systematic serve and volley has almost disappeared from tennis. Do you think that it may ever get back as a viable style of play in the future? What would be needed for it to occur? Smaller rackets? Faster courts? A different training?

I second this! Making serve-and-volley viable again would add much-needed variety to today's grinding baseline game.

Why is the tennis scoring system so ridiculous?

Like chess, styles in tennis matter a great deal. I'd love to know what made for a particularly difficult opponent for her.

What does Martina think of the proposals to modify the scoring system to speed up the games and make the time more predictable?

(My belief: the scoring system in tennis is pure genius. Unlike most sports, it means that every point does not have the same value. Moreover, with its multiple stopping points -- each game and set is a mini-contest -- it means that the momentum in tennis is constantly changing as the match partially resets. I don't think they should change anything.)

Professional tennis is a winner-take-all game, where most professionals make almost nothing in prize money (less expenses), but a few earn very well. Is this good or bad or for the sport at the highest level? http://theconversation.com/why-so-many-tennis-players-go-pro-even-though-few-make-it-88243

Related - how much can a good tennis player's results improve by spending a lot of money on improvements?

Would you approve of increasing the payouts at the Challenger level? We have excellent players ranked between 80-200 in the world making a measly $7200 for winning Challenger tournaments ($14400 if it is a premier Challenger event).

Since your prime, how has doubles play changed compared to singles play? Has it changed more, less, or about the same, and has it done so in the same ways?

Someone - I don't remember who - said you had the skills, presumably both batting and fielding, to play second base for the Yankees. Do you agree? Would you have accepted an offer to do so if it had been made?

How did she overcome her problem of nerves on the court or did she ever really overcome it? If she had children, would she want them to play tennis at a high level? What toll has tennis taken on her health/body?

If she had to give one piece of advice to the average recreational player to improve their game, what would it be?

Does she still play hockey? She used to in Aspen,

The Monica Seles double handed forehand seemed like a break through innovation for a time. Why didn't it catch on?
Whole string of questions about Seles and what her career might have been.

How much did her competition with Chris Evert improve her game?

Why has there not been a similar rivalry in the womens’ game since? The men have had Borg-McEnroe, Sampras-Agassi, Federer-Nadal and more.

Should professional tennis players go for more on second serves and risk double faulting more often?
Why does the Czech Republic have as many top female players as it does right now?
Should young tennis players move outside of their home countries to train? (or specifically about the Czech Republic, as a previous commenter asked).
How can the various tennis organizations make doubles more popular? Should they?
Is there a good case for the ITF, ATP and WTA remaining separate institutions?
Should there be a players' union?

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