The wife vowing to ‘fight’ alongside Martina Navratilova

She’s widely considered to be one of the greatest tennis players of all time – but now Martina Navratilova is sadly gearing up for a different kind of battle all together.

Yesterday the sports star, 66, announced that she has been diagnosed with both breast and throat cancer.

Wimbledon’s greatest ever singles champion discovered a swollen lymph node in her neck while attending the WTA Finals in Fort Worth, Texas, in November.

After undergoing a series of tests on her throat, doctors discovered that Martina’s breast cancer had returned. The star was given the all-clear from a non-invasive form of breast cancer in 2010 following radiation treatment.

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

In the hours following the announcement, tennis stars such as Billie Jean King showed their support for Martina on social media.

But while the world rallies around one of the greatest sporting stars of her generation, Martina will no doubt be relying on the support of her wife of seven years Julia Lemigova, 50.

Here FEMAIL delves into how Julia has braved her own personal tragedy and rose from the final ever Miss USSR beauty queen to starring in the hit series Real Housewives of Miami.

Born in Moscow in 1972, Julia’s father was reportedly a colonel in the Soviet Army.

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

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

Julia Lemigova

Julia Lemigova

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

Speaking to Daily Mail in 2015, the mother-of-two explained that her father also worked as an 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 theater 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.

What’s more, Julia says she only realized what being gay was when she was an adult.

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

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

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 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 wealthy friends, Edouard Stern, a confidant of the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy.

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 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

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 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.

In 2005, 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

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

Julia Lemigova in a bathing suit during the Miss Universe Pageant in 1991

Martina Navratilova pictured in action at Wimbledon in 1990

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, 22, and Emma, ​​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'

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

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

She told the Mail: ‘I told 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 ‘instant 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 daughters, 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.

In 2021, Julia became the first openly gay woman to appear in the Real Housewives franchise.

Navratilova and Lemigova live together in Miami with their two daughters, five Belgian Malinois dogs, turtles and a cat, reports The New York Times.

During her first show, Julia gushed: ‘I never met a soulmate until I met Martina.’

Explaining why she wanted to do the reality show, Julia told Page Six: ‘I’m happy to share my life with Martina — how we live, our family, our kids and our interaction with the animals on the farm.

‘I have the amazing opportunity to show that love has no gender and love is love.’

After Martina made her cancer diagnosis public yesterday, Julia shared a recent photo of her and her wife on Instagram.

She captioned it: ‘Thank you to everyone who has reached out to share words of support. Together, we will fight this.’

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