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The Soviet Union had invaded Czechoslovakia, bringing to an end the brief Prague spring of liberalization and, of more importance to Martina at the moment, an end to her exciting weekend. The tournament was canceled, and she and Mirek got back on his new motorcycle and returned to Revnice.
"Coming into Pilsen the roads had been clean," recalls Martina. "On the way back they were all torn up by the tanks. There were thousands of cars and tanks and soldiers. It was unreal. Nobody knew it was coming except the guys high up in the government, and nobody knew what effect it would have."
The only direct effect on Martina was that, because of the political situation, Parma never returned to Prague. Today he is teaching tennis in, of all places, Palm Springs. "He's still good-looking," says Martina, "but then he was just gorgeous. When I was nine I had such a crush on him. I still did when I came to this country."
By 1972, when she was 15 and the Czech women's champion, she was competing regularly in Europe and North America and beginning to chafe at the restraints imposed by the Czech Tennis Federation, which controlled players by means of its power to rescind their travel permits. In 1974 she won her first tournament in the U.S., a $50,000 Virginia Slims event in Orlando, Fla. That year she also would reach at least the semifinals in either singles or doubles or both at the Italian, French, German and Australian opens.
In July 1975, after Wimbledon, Mirek, Jana, Martina and her younger half sister, also named Jana, returned to Czechoslovakia by car after a brief vacation in France. Their route took them through Pilsen, where the Czech championships were under way. "Everybody was surprised to see us," says Martina. "This guy in the tennis federation had spread rumors that the whole family had left the country, that we were never going to be seen again. That started it."
The all-powerful tennis federation announced that it wouldn't allow Martina to enter the U.S. Open at the end of the summer. She was told that she liked the U.S. too much. Only when Jan Kodes, a Czech who was the 1973 Wimbledon champion, interceded on her behalf did the federation begin to bend. Finally, two days before she had been scheduled to depart, the federation said she could go. "I was a wreck," she says. "But once I was here I knew I wasn't going to go back, so it was just a matter of time until I put it together."
On Friday of the second week of the Open, Martina lost to Evert Lloyd in the semis. That evening Martina and her agent, Fred Barman, went to the offices of the Immigration and Naturalization Service in lower Manhattan. They stayed until 10 p.m. filling out papers. When they had finished, an immigration official told Martina not to say anything about what she had done, and she didn't. "As it turns out, on Sunday The Washington Post had a story that said I had asked for political asylum," says Martina. "The guy's telling me to be quiet, and it's in the paper two days later!"
From September 1975, when she was 18, until July 21, 1981, when she became a U.S. citizen in Los Angeles, Martina was officially a stateless person. "It bothered me," she says, with what one can only guess is considerable restraint. "It was very depressing not belonging anywhere."
By the end of 1979, however, Martina was known everywhere. She was 23, ranked No. 1 in the world and had just won her second straight Wimbledon singles title. She also was a self-made millionaire, and her parents and sister, from whom she had been separated for four years and whom she had thought she might never see again, had at last obtained permission to visit her in the U.S. Finally, the granting of her citizenship appeared to be imminent. One year later, her ranking had slipped to No. 3, she had won no more major championships, her citizenship still hadn't come through and her family had returned to Czechoslovakia several months before it might have been necessary. Martina still earned a record $749,250 in 1980, but it apparently was not enough to buy peace.
Bad blood had risen between Martina and her parents during the parents' stay in a house she had bought for them in Dallas. Their disapproval of the way she lived her life was part of the reason, but the adjustments they had to make were also daunting. "I was sorry to see them go," says Martina, "but it's so much easier this way. I was their daughter, but I was taking care of them, not just physically but emotionally, too. I was always saying, 'Don't worry, everything will be all right.' And my [step]father is happiest when he's the center of attention. He was a bigger deal at home in Czechoslovakia than he was here, plus he didn't speak the language. But I think my sister will come back someday. She liked it a lot."