The headlines on Wimbledon’s first Thursday talked of royalty, for it marked the first visit to the Championships by Her Majesty the Queen since Virginia Wade won the UK’s last singles title in 1977.
The Queen met the current champions, of course, but she also met the woman who many regard as the true queen of Wimbledon, Martina Navratilova.
She won her first singles Slam title at Wimbledon in 1978, and that opened the floodgates as she embarked on a record-breaking 13-year Wimbledon run during which she won nine singles titles—still a record for men or women—and made at least the semis in every year until 1994 (barring a quarterfinal exit in 1991).
Coming back from retirement, she won a 20th title in the mixed doubles in 2003, a record equaled only by friend and fellow tennis icon, Billie Jean King.
What a treat, then, to have her back at the scene of her greatest achievements, Centre Court, where she joined another former Wimbledon champion, Jana Novotna, in the Ladies’ Invitation Doubles event.
For those who stayed on after the men were done with their semis on second Friday, there was the chance to creep down to the vacated front-row seats and soak up the tennis and personality of the queen of Centre Court.
They were treated to a rather slower style of tennis, but one full of touch, placement, tactics, and supreme skill.
And as for speed, well, Navratilova still managed to close out the first set with a 92 m.p.h. serve.
It was not just her serve that was in good order. She strode to the net to strike her familiar angled, crisp volley, and could still teach many a 20-something player how to kill an overhead.
It’s hard to reconcile the appearance and game of this woman with these two facts: She is 53, and she underwent surgery for breast cancer just months ago.
Watching Navratilova in full flow, rushing the net, picking off every shade of volley to perfection, is still one of tennis’s joys. Let’s hope Her Majesty appreciated who the real star of Wimbledon was when she met "Queen Martina" who, incidentally, won the Invitation title!