The start of the "Kill Chris" campaign

What I found most interesting about the excellent "lost chapter" of Steve Tignor's book High Strung (the chapter which, meant to be Chapter 19, was never published) was the remarkable turning point of the tennis life of Martina Navratilova - one of the greatest female players of the sport.

It was when she suffered a humiliating 6-0, 6-0 defeat at the hands of her arch-rival Chris Evert in 1981.

That was the lowest point of her career. Six year after her defection to the US, she was still coming to terms with life as a stateless star. She might have become less alienated as when she first arrived (she told the media in an interview in 1976: "I had nobody to lean on. I couldn't see my family, they couldn't see me, I was all alone… I felt like the whole world was against me."), during which time her reaction to her misery was "going on shopping sprees and pigging out on junk food. But she had gone through highs and lows in those six years, and had earned herself the labels of "the choker" (having been upset in the semifinals of the US Open in the previous four years and often letting her emotions get the best of her) and "Martina the Complainer" (for always speaking her mind and questioning authority). It was also the time when the news that she was bisexual was made public and she had to handle the publicity as well as the loss of sponsorship.

And then came that monumental drubbing in a tournament at Amelia Island in March 1981. But as Steve Tignor wrote, "what appeared to be the bottom was in reality a turning point." For it was during that tournament that Navratilova met basketball star Nancy Lieberman who, together with transsexual tennis player Renée Richards, formed what was to be known as Team Navratilova. While Lieberman helped Navratilova with her training and competitive style, Richards helped her with her strategies. That was the start of what Chris Evert would later call the "Kill Chris" campaign, which completely transformed Navratilova, catapulting her to be the all-conquering winner who was to amass twenty Wimbledon titles (including 9 singles, 7 doubles and 4 mixed).

Martina Navratilova's story is one that shows how the way we handle major setbacks can make a huge difference. We can let the setbacks drag us down the mire. Or we can work hard to change our fortune, and come up stronger than ever.

Only we can make that choice. And what a huge difference that choice can make.

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