Most of my childhood sports idols have retired and/or made their way into their respective Halls Of Fame.
However, one sports icon that I recall from those younger years is still participating in their profession to this day, to which it amazed me upon recollection.
This past Monday at the All-England Club, Martina Navratilova, at the age of 47, made her singles return to Wimbledon in grand fashion, beating 24-year-old Catalina Castano, 6-0, 6-1. Navratilova became the oldest woman to win a match at Wimbledon since 1922, against an opponent almost half her age.
Having made her debut in Wimbledon in 1973, Monday marked Navratilova's first singles competition there in a decade. She's already conquered Wimbledon in the past a record nine times, including six in a row from 1982-1987.
I remember when Navratilova won her first Wimbledon title, when she beat everyone's sweetheart Chris Evert back in 1978. In fact, the main reason I used to watch tennis was to see if Evert would ever avenge her loss to Navratilova.
The two first faced each other in the first round of the 1973 Akron Open in Akron, Ohio. Evert, who was 18 at the time, was an established top five player while Navratilova, 16, was on her first visit to the United States. The duo would face each other 79 more times in their careers, culminating in their last meeting at the 1988 Virginia Slims of Chicago finals. Navratilova would take that title, ending their fiercely competitive rivalry in her favor, 43-37. Evert would eventually retire in 1988.
It was also back in the late 70s, with the likes of first name known celebrities such as "Reggie" and "O.J.," the name "Martina" became synonymous with tennis.
In July 1981, Navratilova became a United States citizen, and shocked the world by admitting that she was bisexual. She was known at the time as being the first legitimate superstar to come out. Despite her on-court dominance, that admission would cost Navratilova millions in endorsement opportunities.
However, with a successful 1982, Navratilova went 90-3 and became the first female athlete to earn more than one million dollars in a year.
Navratilova, feeling the strain of young female tennis stars rising in the late 80s, retired from the sport at the end of 1994. Along the many highlights of her career include being ranked No. 1 for 331 weeks in the 70s and 80s, and a record-setting 144-13 on natural grass. She's won 18 major singles titles from 1978-1990, 167 singles tournaments out of 380 played, and 162 doubles tournaments out of 286 played.
However, in January 2003, Navratilova began playing competitively again, winning the Australian Open mixed doubles title with Leander Paes. With that victory, she became only the third player to win every possible title (singles, women's doubles, mixed doubles) from the four Grand Slam tournaments.
Navratilova, while teaming with Paes again, captured the Wimbledon mixed doubles title, which in turn ties her with Billie Jean King for most Wimbledon titles overall with 20.
Apparently that's the reason Navratilova specifically came out of retirement, to chase down that record.
Unfortunately, the quest for her 21st Wimbledon title came to an end yesterday at the hands of Gisela Dulko, a 19-year-old Argentine who beat Navratilova in the first round at last month's French Open.
Dulko, who lost the first set to Navratilova 6-3, overcame a series of errors during that period to take the final two sets, 6-3 and 6-3.
Whether it's too soon to tell if Navratilova will be back next year, this legendary Hall Of Famer has left her mark not only on the tennis court, but in the mind of this sports fan.