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Tennis great Martina Navratilova has been diagnosed with throat and breast cancer

Martina Navratilova looks on after the Women's Singles Final match during the 2022 U.S. Open in New York.
Sarah Stier
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Martina Navratilova looks on after the Women's Singles Final match during the 2022 U.S. Open in New York.

Martina Navratilova, the tennis legend who dominated the sport in the 1970s and 1980s and won 59 major titles during her historic career, has been diagnosed with throat and breast cancer.

Navratilova, 66, will start treatment later this month, she announced Monday. "The prognosis is good," her agent Mary Greenham said in an email to NPR. "Both these cancers are in their early stages with great outcomes."

Navratilova, who works as a tennis commentator, noticed an enlarged lymph node on her neck during the Women's Tennis Association finals in Fort Worth, Texas, last fall, her agent said. A biopsy revealed it to be stage 1 throat cancer. Then, as Navratilova was undergoing tests on her throat growth, doctors discovered an unrelated breast cancer.

This is Navratilova's second bout with cancer. In 2010, she announced that she was being treated for breast cancer after a tumor was discovered during a routine mammogram. The tumor was removed surgically, and Navratilova underwent a brief course of radiation therapy.

Navratilova was born in Prague in 1956, when the city was part of communist Czechoslovakia. As a teenager, she quickly became a tennis standout, winning her first professional singles title in the U.S. in 1974.

The next year, after she turned 18, she told U.S. immigration officials in New York City that she wanted to defect from Czechoslovakia. She was soon given a green card and became a U.S. citizen in 1981.

Her defection from communist Czechoslovakia loomed large in her career and personal story. When she left home, Navratilova didn't know if she would ever see her family again, she told NPR in an interview last year.

"I stuck it to the communist regime by leaving and succeeding. But it was a one-way ticket, so I lost all that time with my family that I could never get back, and it was brutal," she said.

Her move to the United States came as women's professional tennis was blossoming, with popular and electric stars like Billie Jean King and Chris Evert.

Navratilova would become the first woman to earn $1 million in a single season, and the first tennis player — male or female — to earn $10 million in her career. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, 31 women's doubles titles and 10 mixed doubles titles, for a total of 59 major tournament wins. Navratilova's 332 weeks spent ranked as the world's top female player is more than all but Steffi Graff. The Associated Press declared her Female Athlete of the Year in 1983 and 1984.

She retired from full-time singles competition in 1994 at age 37. But she continued to compete in doubles well into the 2000s, winning her 59th and final title in the 2006 U.S. Open, just about a month before she turned 50.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
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