"I guess it was just like any scene where people meet their long-lost relatives at the airport. Lots of hugs and kisses and crying. But it was very special for me, of course." -- Martina Navratilova
For Martina Navratilova, the expatriate Czech tennis champion, it has been the happiest of holiday seasons.
A week ago today, she celebrated a family Christmas, her first in five years. And she is looking forward to the best of New Years now that a long, lonely wait if over, and her parents and teen-age sister are with her in the United States.
Miroslav Navratil, his wife Jana, and their 16-year-old daughter, also named Jana, arrived in Dallas on Dec. 17, one-year visitors' visas in hand.
Their tearful airport welcome was the joyous culmination of a three-year effort to obtain exit visas from Czechoslovakia so that they could visit their elder daughter Martina, 23, the two-time Wimbledon champion who defected to the U.S. in September 1975.
"We are all together now. This is what we wanted, at least for the time being. Then we will see," Martina said yesterday.
"They have applied for permanent visas from the Czecks, but they haven't gotten permission yet from the Americans to live here . . . . Right now, we really don't care because I'm sure that if they want to stay they could, but right now they just want to stay here a year and see what it is like. Then they might want to go back."
Martina will fly from Dallas to Washington today to participate in the $250,000 Colgate Series Championship, the final playoff for the top eight singles players and top four doubles teams of the 1979 women's season, which begins Wednesday at Capital Centre.
Her family will not accompany her to Washington because they are beginning an intensive two-month course in English this week.
"They'll probably start traveling with me to some tournaments in March. They're planning to come to one tournament just before then, but other than that they'll just be here in Dallas, trying to catch up on the language," Navratilova said in a telephone interview.
"My mother speaks some English. She gets by. And my sister does all right also. My dad is the one who has the most problems."
If the English lessons go satisfactorily, Papa Navratil, 51, probably will take up coaching tennis in Dallas.
He was a good local player who took to the courts regularly on weekends and after work at a trolley factory, where he was employed in the finance office as a middle-level economist. He taught the fundamentals of the game to his two daughters at the five-court tennis club just down the road from the family's house in Revnice, a suburb of 3,000 residents 30 miles from Prague.
He still coaches Jana and has been working the last two weeks with Martina, who, says a trifle overcritically, "never could hit a backhand right."
Sister Jana, who is a half-inch taller than Martina at 5-foot-8 but considerably skinner, is a promising play who may try to combine school with a crack at the women's tennis tour later this year.
"The thing that surprised me most when I met them at the airport was how tall my sister is now, because the last time I saw her she was just a little kid, less than five feet. Now she is taller than I am, and very grown-up," said Martina. "That was the biggest change, the biggest shock."
The sisters have been hitting tennis balls daily on the same courts where Martina has been working out diligently with Bill Scanlon, a Dallas native who plays on the men's tour, getting ready for the Capital Centre showdown and the 1980 season.
Martina -- who once said that her sister lacked only a "killer instinct," that she tended to get ahead of an opponent and then feel sorry for her and let up -- has been impressed by Jana.
"I think she might be getting it. I means, she's really eager," said the 1978-79 Wimbledon champion and reigning No. 1 player in women's tennis. "She's very good. I think she could make it of the tour."
That would be particularly gratifying for Marina, who thinks Jana endured the only reprisals after she sought and was granted political asylum in the U.S. during the 1975 U.S. Open Championships.
"My sister had some problems in school, and also with her tennis. The officials wouldn't let her practice with the team, and she especially had a hard time getting courts in the winter, and getting into tournaments," said Martina, who defected only after concluding in her own mind that there would be no serious reprisals against her family as a result of her actions.
She assumes that her letters and phone calls home in the past four years have been monitored by the Czech government, but doesn't know for sure.
"I have no idea. I really don't care if there were or not, because we weren't saying anything political," said Martina, who has applied for U.S. citizenship and will become eligible next October. "It was just what I was doing, what they were doing, things like that. Family gossip."
Navratilova, who has said frequently that she will always be "a Czeck at heart," hopes to be able to visit her homeland again some day to get another look at the house at 108 Prazska St. where she grew up, and where her maternal grandmother, Agnes Semanska, now lives. Her son and his family are moving in now that her daughter and her family have moved out.
"I'd like to go back there if I can. But I'll have to have lots of guarantees that I'll be safe, because I want to come back also," Martina said. "Legally, once I become an American citizen, I can go back if the Czechs give me a visa. But they have the right to refuse, too, so I might not get the chance."
In the meantime, she expects that the Dallas community will embrace her family as warmly and reassuringly as it did her. She bought her parents a house near the one she shares with friends and her dog, Racquet," who has helped her stop missing "Babeta" the Alsatian that her parents gave her on her 15th birthday and that she left behind when she quietly left home for good.
"I've had some good friends here in the States that have helped me a lot," she said a year ago this week. "Without them I don't think I could have done it. I probably would have gone back to Czechoslovakia because I would have gone crazy. But I have some real dear friends that helped me through the bad times and stuck it out with me. I'll never forget that."
She remembered it this Christmas as she enjoyed with her family "the usual Czech dinner, which consists of fish and potato salad, and then the exchange of gifts."
She gave her parents mostly furnishings for their new house. They gave her some hand-made crystal glasses from Czechoslovakia. "They said there were lots more presents, but they had to ship all that because they couldn't bring it with them," Martina said. Just being together, they all agreed, was the finest gift of all.
The family Christmas was the touching conclusion of a gradual reunion that began last spring, when Martina's 84-year-old paternal grandmother, Andela Subertova, was granted a one-month visa to visit her in Dallas and New York, where Martina won the Avon Championship to climax her domination of the winter tour.
Her mother, 47, then received a two-week visa to go to London last summer, and was with Martina as she won her second consecutive Wimbledon singles title, and the doubles alongside Billie Jean King. It was understood that the mother's visa was issued with the personal approval of the tennis-loving Czechoslovakian Prime Minister, Dr. Lubomir Strougal.
At that time, however, Martina remained uncertain as to whether the whole family would ever be granted a visa to leave together.
Martina had said repeatedly that no matter how successful she was in tennis, she could never be completely happy until she was reunited with her family. Now that dream has come true. All that remains is for her two grandmothers to visit.
"The one who was here last year wants to come back, and the other one would like to visit, too, I'm sure," said Martina, who had become a nonperson in the government-controlled Czech media until she won Wimbledon the first time, and got a grudging one-paragraph mention in the official Communist Party newspapers. This year, her repeat triumph was shown on Czech television and covered in the press, though her less important victories still go conspicuously unreported.
"So maybe next year some time, the grandmothers might come. Then the whole family would be together again. But we feel we are all together already," she said yesterday. "This is all we hoped for, and we are so happy it finally happened."