On September 6, 1975, 18-year-old rising tennis star Martina Navratilova—who would become one of the greatest players of all time—asks for political asylum in the United States after defecting from communist Czechoslovakia.
Navratilova flourished on the court between May and September 1975, finishing runner-up in the Australian and French Open. At the U.S. Open, Navratilova reached the semifinals before falling to Chris Evert, who would become her chief rival. Then she announced plans to defect.
“Pandemonium reigned around her as cameras clicked and reporters shouted questions,” Steve Tignor of Tennis.com wrote in 2015. “But the teenager remained as calm and self-assured as could be expected, considering what she had just done.”
Like many of her countrymen, Navratilova chafed under communist rule. “She’s from a Communist country,” an Immigration and Naturalization Service spokesman told the New York Times in 1975. “If she wants to stay here, she’ll be permitted to stay.”
Later, Navratilova said she “had no idea what a splash” her defection would cause.
“I’ll never get it off my back,” she told the New York Times. “It’ll always be there. Always. I think 20 years from now they’ll still ask, ‘Why did you do it?”’
Navratilova, who was stripped of her Czechoslovakian citizenship, became a U.S. citizen in 1981. Her Czech citizenship was later restored. Navratilova—one of the first openly gay athletes—was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000.