A series of five portraits featuring women who redefined our sport.

Their influence reached far beyond center court. Empowering generations of female athletes to define their own voice and combat gender stereotypes.

Curated by : Caitlin Thompson, Publisher of Racquet, an award winning print magazine and media company

As anyone who’s spent the last two decades even slightly familiar with pro tennis knows, nothing quite captures the imagination as a rivalry—and in these past 20 years we’ve been lucky enough to witness a three-way race for records and Grand Slam trophies in men’s tennis. But for me the most compelling rivalry in the sport’s history has to be American Chris Evert and her foil, the Czech-born Martina Navratilova—whose battles in the 1980s built on the promise of Billie Jean King’s WTA into a commodified product, gave rise to the commercialism that was necessary for the tours legitimacy, and whose conflicting style of play both illustrated a game in transition and the beauty in contrast. Evert, a perfect pitchwoman for the game (as well as everything from tea to tennis bracelets) was embraced by the tv viewing audience as much for her sunny demeanor as well as her solid baseline strokes. Into this halcyon version of American tennis came Eastern Bloc defector Navratilova, whose net-rushing and near-fanatical devotion to fitness was as much a breakthrough at the time from a sport still transitioning from cigarettes and cocktails to protein powders and recovery protocols as her plainspoken style. That the two not only split titles from the late 1970s to the early 1990s, netting out with an equal amount of singles slam trophies at 18, but also fostered a deep friendship that persists to this day is a testament to your rivals truly becoming your biggest motivators, and eventually, your intimates.

Navratilova’s other breakthrough took place mostly off the court, where her courage to discuss her sexuality and become the sport’s first out player (and the first player to hire a transgender woman in Renee Richards as her coach) underscores the kind of bravery it took for her to outmaneuver her native then-authoritarian government. Her current views on trans athletes have put her into conflict with the political left that she otherwise comfortably calls home, but she remains a reliably thought-provoking and important voice in sport and culture. Her latest flirtation with mainstream culture comes courtesy of her wife, Julia Lemigova, a Russian model who currently stars on The Real Housewives of Miami. Fewer athletes have the range to go as many places in our world as has Martina, and a big reason why is her indomitable attitude—leading her to the most overall titles (singles, doubles & mixed) of any player of all time. Anyone invested in the GOAT race to claim the most slam titles in the Open Era would be wise to remember that Navratilova’s trophy case has 59. 

The women trailblazers in tennis series is the latest feature of the gender equity program. 

Tennis Canada and National Bank have partnered to create meaningful actions and change for gender equity in tennis.

The aim of the program is to create opportunities for women and girls in tennis, encouraging them to continue playing and enticing even more to pick up a racquet, become life-long participants, coaches, officials, and professionals, and reap the benefits of an active lifestyle and personal growth through sport.

For more information, go to https://www.tenniscanada.com/girls/