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Martina Keeps All England Under Her Rule : Navratilova Wins 5th Singles Crown in Row, Beating Mandlikova, 7-6, 6-3

July 06, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — Her majesty.

That is what she revealed, once again. Also, her grandeur. Her splendor. Her fitness. Her greatness.

Her highness, Martina Navratilova, empress of tennis, took the Wimbledon women's singles crown Saturday for the seventh time, and for the fifth in a row, this time 7-6, 6-3 over Hana Mandlikova, not even dropping a set in the tournament for the third time in four years. Another queen sweep.

Just when it appeared she would lose a set at last, Navratilova came back from a 5-2 disadvantage in the first set--firing home 22 first serves without a miss. She overcame a hot start by Mandlikova, a court made wet by morning rain, even such unlucky breaks as a point that Martina failed to win while Hana was on hands and knees, having fallen to the grass.

The run of five straight championships tied Navratilova with the late Suzanne Lenglen and with young retiree Bjorn Borg for most successes in succession. It also put her within one singles title of the record total of eight held by Helen Wills Moody, who is 80 now and probably was watching a telecast of the proceedings at her Carmel, Calif., home.

When the match was over, Navratilova, 29, was presented with the wok-sized silver plate by the oldest living Wimbledon champion, 90-year-old Kitty McKane Godfree, who won the tournament in 1924 and 1926. "She told me she didn't get a plate when she won, but her name is engraved on it," Martina said. "I just hope I'm around as long as she is."

That would be the year 2047, and presumably, Navratilova will be finished playing for money by then. Godfree still hits a ball or two for fun these days, and Navratilova volunteered to volley with her today if she is up to it. Someday, perhaps, Martina will descend from Wimbledon's Royal Box to hand the award to the winner, as Kitty did. Perhaps they will sit there together.

There was no queen in the box, no king in the box, not even a jack in the box, but to Wimbledon's All England Club Saturday, royalty did come. There sat the Duke and Duchess of Kent, the Crown Prince and Princess of Jordan, Sir Georg Solti of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, any orchestra's favorite violinist Isaac Stern, an admiral, an ambassador, a lord and lady, a viscount and viscountess, everybody but the Duke of Ellington, the Count of Basie and the Lords of Flatbush.

They saw Navratilova take her 14th Wimbledon title, with her women's doubles final and mixed doubles final still remaining to be played. Lenglen won 15, Billie Jean King 20. They also saw Navratilova take her 34th straight Wimbledon match. She has not been beaten here since the semifinals of 1981 (by Mandlikova) and has lost two sets in five years.

Not two matches in five years.

Two sets in five years.

"I think her achievements are unbelievable," Mandlikova said. "Maybe there isn't anybody else who can do it. It's unbelievable, like Bjorn Borg."

The kid is too young to remember Lenglen and Moody. But at 24, Mandlikova looked ready, willing and able to have her own name carved onto the plate. Any heroine-worship she may have once had for Navratilova, the player she once served as a ball girl in Prague, was left behind when this match began.

Mandlikova broke her first service and quickly led, 3-0. She took Martina to deuce next time, too. Navratilova's big serve wasn't cooking yet; she later claimed not to have been concerned at all, but on the court, Martina was mumbling, pacing, smacking her racket, shooting pained looks at her coaches and friends in the seats.

She also was wiping the mist off her eyeglasses with her skirt, over and over. It had rained much of the morning, and there was a slight drizzle during the match. Centre Court's worn grass was so slippery that both women continued to scrape goo from their shoes, and at one point Navratilova pretended to skate along the white baseline, Dorothy Hamill-like.

While leading, 5-2, Mandlikova felt compelled to change shoes. If superstitious, she will never do so again. Soon it was 5-5, then 6-6, and Martina was belting unreturnable serves. Her first serves were perfect, 22 of them in a row, and the tiebreaker was not even close, 7-1.

"I thought, 'My God, when is this streak going to end?' " the champion said. "I even thought it would be tough hitting a second serve again, because I hadn't hit one for a while. Even in practice I had to hit some extra second serves, because I wasn't missing any first ones."

It was reminiscent of basketball's Larry Bird, saying he sometimes has to practice complicated shots because the regular ones become routine. Navratilova often finds herself needing a challenge.

At the U.S. Open last summer, much the same thing happened. Mandlikova led during the first set, 5-0, but had to scramble to win it in a tiebreaker and then had to play like crazy to win in three sets. To beat Navratilova, a player has to make breaks and take breaks.

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