Tennis Prose



Mike Tyson Talks Tennis, Insists Martina Was Greater Than Serena

By Scoop Malinowski

As we stood there in the parking lot of Mario’s Ringside Lounge just off Route 1 & 9 in Jersey City, N.J. on a sunny April afternoon, I made a random comment to Mike Tyson, to initiate some small talk. “Mike, you’re looking in great shape, how did you do it? Been playing any tennis?”

Suddenly, the former Heavyweight champion in the world looked at me and began hitting shadow forehand and backhand strokes, while saying, “I hit with Martina Navratilova when she stayed at my house in New Jersey (Bernardsville). I played with her. She was the greatest.”

My mind was stunned to hear such a revelation, it was like getting caught on the chin by a surprise punch. Wow! Mike Tyson could play tennis? Mike Tyson appreciates how great Martina Navratilova was? He explained it was back in the 1980’s when he was married to Robin Givens, who had a sister who was an aspiring WTA pro. They were friends with Lori McNeil, Navratilova and that crowd.

The first thing I thought of was to engage in a friendly debate with the man who won the World Heavyweight title on November 22, 1986 at the age of 20. So I said to Mike something to the effect that Martina was great in her time but Serena Williams today would beat her, just totally overwhelm her with her intensity, powerful baseline game and those heavy, 120 mile-per-hour serves.

Mike not only disagreed, he disagreed vehemently. He spoke with firm conviction in his voice and used his hands for emphasis. “It’s not about intensity and power. It’s about calm and self control.”

I tried to keep up the argument. “In one match, both at their best, Serena takes her out, she’s just too strong.”

Again Mike would not agree. He was adamant, and spoke with a strong, authoritative voice. There was not an iota of doubt in his words. “It’s not about one match. It’s about consistency, longevity, doing it over and over. If you say Serena is the best, then why can’t she break Martina’s record?”

Boom! He froze me again with a powerful point which put me on the defensive. After a pause, I offered, “Yeah, that’s true. But Serena has other interests outside of tennis (acting, designing, writing, etc.) Martina was all about tennis, all about winning.”

My counter was totally ineffective. In fact, it only seemed to make Tyson stronger. And he went for the knockout. “That’s why she’s the best. That’s what a champion does – they keep doing it over and over and over.”

Mike Tyson would know a lot better than me what makes a world champion. With blank silence, I defered to Mike Tyson. He was absolutely right.

That night I looked it up: Martina Navratilova has won 18 grand slam singles titles, 31 in doubles and 10 in mixed, compared to 12/11/2 for Serena.

Then Tyson added another point, maybe because he enjoyed the back and forth, which lasted less than two minutes. “I remember Kid Gavilan told me – we were talking about Roberto Duran…”

Duran was my favorite boxer of all time, the first boxer I really loved as a kid. “He’s mine too,” added Tyson. “Kid Gavilan said if he fought Duran ten times, he would lose one. Kid Gavilan was only knocked down twice in 135 fights, can you imagine that?”

But then they had to go. The producers had to take Mike over to Brooklyn – they were filming his forthcoming Animal Planet reality show, to be called “Taking On Tyson” which will be about his interest in pigeons and competitive pigeon racing.

Hopefully, I will have the chance to talk more about tennis with Mike Tyson in the near future, as it’s obviously a sport he has appreciation for.

Maybe I’ll ask him what he thinks about Steffi Graf’s 22 grand slam singles titles. Or Federer vs. Nadal. Or if any tennis champions remind him of himself…

Scoop Malinowski’s first book “Heavyweight Armageddon: The Tyson-Lewis Championship Battle” was called “A smashing success” by Boxing Hall of Famer Emanuel Steward, “One of the two best boxing books I ever read.” John McEnroe also read “Heavyweight Armageddon” and said he “really liked” it.

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  • Mark Sanders · May 21, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    Very entertaining read. Hard to wrap your head around the idea of Tyson being a teenis fan but obviously he is. Looking forward to the next time you accost Iron Mike.

  • Scoop Malinowski · May 22, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    A lot of boxers are tennis fans (Lennox Lewis, Ray Leonard, Klitschko, Kostya Tszyu) probably because tennis is the sport that closest resembles boxing. Tracy Austin once said, “Tennis is a fistfight without the fists.” I tell you though, by the look of the form on Tyson’s shadow swings, he might have some game!



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