Martina Navratilova's wife Julia Lemigova has supported wife

How Martina Navratilova’s wife Julia Lemigova has supported tennis champion wife through cancer after overcoming ‘murder’ of both her son and his billionaire father

  • Julia Lemigova, 51, has fought her own battles alongside Martina Navratilova
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As one of the greatest tennis players of all time and with 18 Grand Slam titles to her name, Martina Navratilova is no stranger to success.

However, she is now celebrating a whole new kind of joy, after getting the all clear from breast and throat cancer.

The 66-year-old, who yesterday cut her hair short in what she dubbed a ‘f**k cancer’ style, has been supported by her wife of seven years Julia Lemigova, 51, throughout her cancer battle.

In a new post this week to Julia’s Instagram account, the couple shared the emotional moment Navratilova had her hair cut short, saying the trip was ‘a reminder of how far we’ve come’.

Julia has often praised her wife, saying she ‘amazes her every day’ and that fighting cancer was like ‘playing singles against the nastiest double partners she ever faced in her life’. 

But Julia, who was born in Soviet Russia in 1972, the daughter of a colonel in the USSR army, has battled her own personal tragedy, including overcoming the death of her baby son.

Now a mother-of-two, she stars in the Real Housewives of Miami and has had a successful career as a model, becoming the final ever Miss USSR.

Martina Navratilova and Julia Lemigova pictured attending the Pre-GRAMMY Gala in 2017

Julia Lemigova pictured prepping for Miss Universe in 1991 after her Miss USSR win

Speaking to Daily Mail in 2015, the mother-of-two explained that her father also worked as a engineer in the aviation industry – which is how he met her mother.

Describing her comfortable, middle-class upbringing, she said: ‘I had a good education and my parents were quite cultured. There would always be trips to the theatre or to see the Bolshoi.’ 

However, Julia had dreams of living in the West and says she used to sell trinkets outside of hotels in Moscow to put towards plane tickets. 

In 1990, Julia – who was only 18 at the time – became the last woman to ever be crowned Miss USSR. The following year, she took third place in the Miss Universe contest and moved to London.

Julia says she only realised what being gay was when she was an adult.

Left: Julia Lemigova pictured at the age of 18. Right: Julia working as a model after her Miss USSR win

The couple (pictured enjoying dinner with their dog) first met in 2000 at a gay bar in Paris

Julia pictured with her Real Housewives of Miami castmates at the season five premiere

‘I grew up in Russia and I didn’t know it [being gay] existed,’ she added. ‘No one talked about it. I must have been 17 or 18 — I’d already moved to London — before I knew that same-sex relationships happened.’

During her years in London, Julia stayed at the Chelsea home of socialite heiress Caroline St George and was a guest of Tory politician Lord Lambton at his Tuscany villa.

By the mid-1990s, she had moved to Paris to open her own spa and befriended financier Sir James Goldsmith for business advice.

In 1997, she embarked on a passionate affair with one of Sir James’s billionaire friends, Edouard Stern, a confidant of the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy, and one of the richest men in France.

Stern was estranged from his wife, Beatrice David-Weill, with whom he had three children. Three years later, Julia gave birth to their son Maximilien.

Julia shared a son with Edouard Stern (pictured), who was killed by his lover in 2005 following a sadomasochistic sex session. Julia remains adamant that her baby Maximilien was ‘murdered’ by a nanny he hired while in his care

Julia says Martina helped nurse her through the heartbreak of losing her first child

Following their split, Julia’s son – who was subject to a custody battle – died of shaken baby syndrome while in the care of Edouard’s Bulgarian nanny Maya.

Shortly after his death, Maya disappeared and Julia was always been adamant that her son was murdered.

At the time of the baby’s death, the official line given by the authorities was that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with a prosecution. Despite reopening the case in 2010, the circumstances of her son’s final hours remain a mystery. 

Just a few years later tragedy struck again when Edouard was shot dead by his lover Cécile Brossard during a sadomasochistic sex session.

Speaking to Page Six last year, Julia explained: ‘I don’t know if I ever completely survived the loss of my son.

‘Part of me is dead forever. At the time, I simply didn’t want to live. Selfishly, I wanted to end my life so many times. I wanted to join my son. I wanted to go away.’

Former tennis star Martina Navratilova proposed to Julia Lemigova at Arthur Ashe Stadium, in New York in 2014

Julia Lemigova (pictured left) in a bathing suit during the Miss Universe Pageant in 1991 and (right) Martina Navratilova in action at Wimbledon the previous year

At this time, Julia says she was still struggling with her sexuality and ‘couldn’t imagine holding another woman’s hand in the street’.

After Max’s tragic death, Julia went on to have daughters Victoria, now 22, and Emma, now 15, but separated from their unnamed fathers.

However, she says Martina slowly gave her the confidence to show her affection in public. The couple first met in a gay bar in Paris in 2000 before crossing paths again at the French Open eight years later.

After bumping into each other in the players’ restaurant, the pair arranged to meet for breakfast the following day and became inseparable from then on.

What’s more, Julia says her personal tragedy brought the couple closer together.

The couple pictured on a tennis court in 2022. Martina captioned the image: ‘Fun in the sun’

Martina and Julia pictured with daughters Victoria and Emma in November 2014

She told the Mail: ‘I did tell Martina, and very early on. It was a part of me — my pain, my grief. My loss is with me every day, every single moment of the day. I shared that with her.’ 

That said, it was only when the pair moved to Miami that Julia says she found the confidence to hold her partner’s wife in public.

During her appearance on BBC’s Desert Island Discs in 2012, Martina explained how she had become a second mother to Julia’s two daughters and found an ‘instantaneous family’.

She told host Kirsty Young: ”I never really got the opportunity to have a child, but I am in a relationship now with my partner and she has two girls, so I am a parent now. It’s difficult, two girls, but it’s fun, it’s amazing. 

In 2014, Martina proposed to Julia at the US Open and the couple married in a small ceremony in New York just three months later, which was attended by Brooke Shields and tennis pro Chris Evert.

Lemigova, who’s been married to the player turned commentator since their Palm Beach wedding in 2015, wrote: ‘My wife Martina, just beat two cancers at the same time, and I couldn’t be more proud of her strength and determination. Her courage and grace inspire me every day.

‘Today, we are taking her to get a haircut, and it may seem like a small, simple thing, but it is a reminder of how far we have come. It is a symbol of hope and a celebration of life. We are grateful for each and every moment, and we know that we are stronger together than we could ever be alone.’

After the trim, the tennis icon said she was ‘loving’ her new haircut. 

In late June, ahead of Wimbledon where she worked as a commentator, she announced on Twitter after what she said was a full day of tests at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City that she was finally free of the disease.

Navratilova, pictured with her wife Julia Lemigova, at a Netflix premiere in New York City in 2019 – the couple wed in Palm Beach in 2015

The couple pictured at Wimbledon earlier this month, Martina declared she’s now cancer free in June after being diagnosed with two types of the disease in January 

Navratilova wrote: ‘Thank you to all the doctors, nurses, proton and radiation magicians etc – what a relief.’

She had been diagnosed with a non-invasive form of breast cancer in 2010 and had a lumpectomy.

The 18-time Grand Slam singles champion had noticed an enlarged lymph node in her neck in November and a biopsy revealed the early stage throat cancer.

But Navratilova felt well enough to return to her TV work with the Tennis Channel by the Miami Open in March.

She spoke at the Italian Open back in May about her battle with the disease as she accepted the ‘Racchetta d’Oro’ (Golden Racket) award for her contributions to the sport.

‘I’ve gone through a very difficult year but now I’m OK,’ Navratilova said at the time.

The 66-year-old said in January that her prognosis was good after noticing an enlarged lymph node in her neck at the WTA Finals in Texas last November.

In May, Navratilova said that she was doing ‘OK’ during a ceremony at the Italian Open

A biopsy showed results of early stage throat cancer.

While Navratilova was undergoing tests on her throat, she said, the unrelated, early stage breast cancer was discovered.

Navratilova returned to her work as a TV analyst at Tennis Channel in March, when in an interview with TalkTV’s Piers Morgan, she said she was told by doctors that, ‘as far as they know, I’m cancer-free,’ and she should be ‘good to go’ after some additional radiation treatment.

She won 59 Grand Slam titles overall, including 31 in women’s doubles and 10 in mixed doubles.

The last was a mixed doubles championship with Bob Bryan at the 2006 US Open, a month shy of her 50th birthday.

Navratilova originally retired in 1994, after a record 167 singles titles and 331 weeks at No. 1 in the WTA rankings.

She returned to the tour to play doubles in 2000 and occasionally competed in singles, too.

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