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Wimbledon suits Martina ... again

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 16, 1999


When it was over, when Martina Navratilova had set one record and equaled another, she sighed a breath of relief and said: "So I finally won a tournament. There were plenty of doubters out there, but I wasn't one of them. I had beaten myself a few times, but it wasn't going to happen here."

Perhaps she had beaten herself elsewhere, but not even she could beat herself at Wimbledon. On July 4, 1987, Navratilova beat back the future for one final time, defeating Steffi Graf 7-5, 6-3 to win a record sixth consecutive women's singles title and match Helen Wills Moody's record of eight overall.

It also was Navratilova's 41st consecutive victory at Wimbledon, adding to her perfect record in the final. And it ended a frustrating six-tournament, seven-month drought in 1987 in which she had lost in four finals and two semifinals.

She got to the final with an emotional 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 semifinal victory against close friend and longtime rival Chris Evert, her sixth victory against Evert at Wimbledon and the 39th in 73 matches they had played. "After the match I had tears in my eyes, and it wasn't for me winning; it was for Chris losing," Navratilova said. When she blasted a service winner down the middle to finish off the 18-year-old Graf, Navratilova, 30, turned toward her entourage at courtside and held up one finger, signifying her first tournament title of the year. With it, she put the brakes to the Graf express that had won 45 matches in a row and all seven tournaments she played in 1987, twice beating Navratilova along the way. Had Graf won, she would have become No. 1 in the world, supplanting Navratilova.

If there is such a thing as destiny, it showed midway in the second set just who was supposed to win this match. With the score at 3-3 and Navratilova serving and down 15-30, she hit a forehand that hit the top of the net and rolled over, her fourth net-cord winner. "That's when I thought it was meant to be," she said. "I was getting breaks that I haven't been getting this year, and it was frustrating her."

Navratilova's strength in the championship match was her slice serve to Graf's backhand. Graf repeatedly netted her returns. Navratilova had only one ace, but 18 service winners. And with her serve working so well, Navratilova could rush the net without worrying too much about Graf's passing shots.

Graf, too, showed an excellent serve. She had five aces and 12 service winners. But she was always playing from behind.

The confidence Navratilova seemed to lack in the weeks leading up to Wimbledon was back in force once the tournament began. "The confidence can only come from being here so many times," she said, "knowing that my game is there and suits the grass. I thought that if it's time to win a tournament, this is the one to win."


-- Information from the New York Times was used in this report.

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