More: Congratulations on DWTS. What attracted you to the ballroom dance floor?
Martina Navratilova: I always wanted to learn how to dance. When I retired from tennis, I thought I would take some dance lessons, but I get pretty embarrassed dancing by myself. I was actually asked a number of times to do this show, but I kept thinking, "No, I can’t do this in front of all of these people."
More: Why the change of heart?
MN: I have this thing about conquering my fears. When I had a fear of flying, I got my pilot's license. I was afraid of drowning, so I got my scuba license. Since I am the ambassador for AARP, I needed to step up to the plate and conquer this and show people how much fun dancing can be. I haven’t done anything new in a while, so I made this is my challenge of the year.
More: The outfits are also way different here from the ones you used to wear on the tennis courts.
MN: Yeah! I can’t imagine what it would be like to play tennis in a ballroom dress. I have to say I am really enjoying the whole production of doing the hair, the makeup, the spray tan, the eyelashes and the glitter. Plus, I also like wearing the high heels, since they weren’t as high as I thought they would be. Because we are performing, we all need to play and look the part.
More: How does getting all glam make you feel?
MN: When they do my hair and I put on the high heels, I feel so sexy.
More: This competition should be a breeze for you, since you used to performing intense matches in front of billions of eyeballs.
MN: I knew what I was doing there. I am a novice here. I need to learn all of these new dances in just a few weeks and then perform them in front of 30 million people. Doing something like that is way out of my comfort zone.
More: There must be something that works to your advantage.
MN: The discipline, concentration and focus. I have to succeed on the tennis court and now will channel that energy into succeeding on the dance floor.
More: This is a grueling competition. Healthwise, how are you are feeling, given that you recently had a few scares [Navratilova was diagnosed with breast cancer and suffered a pulmonary edema.]
MN: Absolutely great. I have been dancing for two and a half weeks, and my body has been holding up great. I have had no major pains or aches. The only injury I suffered recently was when I stubbed my little left toe when I was in the Bahamas. That, I should add, had nothing to do with dancing.
More: Your name is synonymous with the title “world champion.” Why did you recently classify yourself in an interview as the underdog?
MN: My partner, Tony Dovolani, and I were labeled the 20-to-1 underdog, but I will prove them wrong.
More: Half of the battle is scoring in the popularity department, which you should have no trouble with, since you used to be ranked No. 1 in the world.
MN: I think being a champion and having the experience of performing under pressure is having an edge.
More: Good—so no butterflies in the stomach?
MN: You always worry you are going to somehow embarrass yourself. But because I have the experience of being in the zone and in the moment because of my tennis career, I plan on just focusing on that and doing the best I can.
More: If you could play a match with any three tennis players—past or present—who might they be?
MN: Suzanne Lenglen, Bill Tilden and Rob Laver. I want a mixed doubles match. I have played with all of the greats in my generation, but Suzanne and Bill were the greatest of theirs.