Martina Navratilova's triumph at Wimbledon was met yesterday by a news blackout in her native Czechoslovakia where she has been a non-person ever since she left to play tennis in the West three years ago.
While her face beamed from news-pages and television screens throughout the world. Prague's government-controlled media virtually ignored the feat of the first Czechoslovak woman to win the world tennis crown.
Several Cechzoslovak newspapers carried the picture of Chris Evert, whom Navratilova defeated in the dramatic final game at Wimbledon Friday. The caption in the newspaper Svoboden Solvo read, "Christ Evert who qualified once again for the unofficial world tennis championship final."
The 21 year-old Navratilova left her native country not for political reasons but, she said, simply because she wanted to play with the best. It was an audacious step by standards of Prague's Communist authorities and as a punishment they prohibited the mention of her name in the Czechoslovkia news media.
If only she could win the world's most prestigious championship. Navratilova reasoned aloud earlier last week, she would force Prague to report that triumph to her country. That is what matters to Navratilova, whose parents, relatives and friends were not allowed to leave Czechoslovakia to watch her play.
Her success did force the Communist Party newspaper Rude Pravo to print the name "Navratilova" yesterday in a sole reference to the outcome of the women's singles final. But the paper omitted even her first name.
The extraordinary thing about the news blackout is that it demonstrates how little things have changed in Czechollovakia since the Cold War.
It recalls the fate of another Czechoslovak tennis star, JaroslovDrobny, who captured the men's singles title at Wimbledon in 1954. Like Navratilova, Drobny had left Czechoslovakia to play tennis in the West and became a nonperson in his native land.
While ignoring the women's competition. Czechoslovak media in contrast provided extensive coverage of the rest of the Wimbledon tournament, including live television coverage of the men's singles final yesterday.
But considerable numbers of Czechoslovaks saw Navratilova's triumph on West German or Austrian television, which can be picked up along the border with the tow countries. Navratilova's parents traveled from their home at Revnice, outside Praque, to Plzen, closer to the West German border, to see her daughter play on German TV.
Officials of Radio Free Europe in Munich, which broadcast to Czechoslovakia and other soviet bloc countries, said yesterday their listening audience was larger than usual due to public interest in Navratilova's play at Wimbledon.
Navratilova, who is now a resident of Dallas, has not seen her father, Miroslav, her mother or her sister Jana, 15, for three years. Their applications for visas to London were rejected.
The Czechoslovak news blackout on Navratilova's triumph was believed to have been decided upon at the highest levels of the Czechoslovak government. It reflects continued insecurities among the top officials who took power following the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the end of Alexander Dubcek's rule.
Repressive policies of President Gustav Husak's regime generally focus on political dissent and creative artistic life. What makes the suppression of news about Navratilova unusual is the fact that she has not engaged in any political activities nor made statements against the Czechoslovak government.
According to analysts here, Navratilova's decision to reject the regimentation of Czechoslovakia's sports life apparently is regarded by the authorities as a threat that could potentially encourage other sports activists to take similar decisions.
By contrast, Romanian tennis star llie Nastase travels freely to and from Romania and is regarded by Romanians as a national hero.