Smashing Success

Martina Navratilova takes the court with Elton John and Billie Jean King to raise money for AIDS

by Sean Bugg
Published on November 10, 2010, 11:39pm | Comments

When Martina Navratilova takes to the court next Monday, it won't be for glory or the record books. Instead, she'll be joining a host of other tennis stars and legends in a fundraiser for AIDS charities.

Not that there won't be a little friendly competition.

''The better the players the more fun it is for us, the more fun it is for the crowd,'' says Navratilova. ''Everyone's competitive when they're on the court.... Playing tennis has always been for me about playing the game, and if I do it really well, then chances are that I'll win.''

The World Team Tennis Smash Hits fundraiser comes to American University's Bender Arena on Monday, Nov. 15. It's a fundraiser for the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the Washington AIDS Partnership. This is the 18th annual WTT Smash Hits event, with two teams captained by Elton John and Billie Jean King competing under the World Team Tennis (WTT) format.

''The atmosphere is always pretty electric and it's for a great cause,'' says Navratilova. ''We'll put on a good show. … That's what we live for as tennis players.''

With the involvement of King, John and Navratilova — as well as Rennae Stubbs, a member of D.C.'s WTT team the Washington Kastles for the last two seasons — there's plenty of gay and lesbian participation in the evening's sporting event. Other players to be seen include Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, Anna Kournikova, Jan-Michael Gambill and James Blake.

Navratilova herself is famed as one of the sport's greatest players, not only winning multiple Grand Slam titles but enjoying a career that spanned decades — from her early years in the 1970s through her later career playing professional doubles at the highest levels until she retired in 2006. That lengthy career sprang from a devotion to physical training and fitness that she maintains to this day as she trains for an upcoming hike up Mount Kilimanjaro. She's quick to point out that her training now is not as long or intense as her training as a pro player.

Although her participation in Smash Hits will help raise money and awareness for AIDS issues, Navratilova is an outspoken advocate for women's health issues, something that became even more personal for her earlier this year when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent radiation treatments.

''It's important to have a good group of family and friends who are on your side no matter what, and to plug into that and not play the hero and say, 'I'll be fine, I'm okay,' because you're not 'okay' when you have cancer,'' she says.

Navratilova also stresses the importance of lesbians taking charge of their own health, and not neglecting to visit their doctors regularly.

''Gay women get sloppy when it comes to going to the gynecologist, because they figure, 'We're not going to get pregnant,'' she says. ''That's why I was out beating the bushes to get women to go [and to get mammograms].''

An entertaining presence on court as a champion, Navratilova is just as entertaining when the stakes are for charity, just as earlier this year when she played in the ''Hit for Haiti'' fundraiser. And Smash Hits will be a chance for her to entertain and compete not only for raising money, but for herself.

''The opportunity to play and get on the court with Billie Jean and Elton and, of course, the great players of the past [and present],'' she says, ''it's always been a treat. I love it.''

The 18th Annual WTT Smash Hits is Monday, Nov. 15, at American University's Bender Arena. Tickets are available at aueagles.tix.com. For more information about WTT Smash Hits visit wtt.com.