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Martina Gets One Thing She Wants : New Car Is Hers, While No. 1 Ranking Will Have to Wait

September 28, 1987|BOB WOLF | Special to The Times

Martina Navratilova will answer almost any question you can dream up, but don't ask her if she deserves to regain her ranking as the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world.

It seemed like a good idea to pose that question Sunday since, two weeks ago, Navratilova had beaten top-seeded Steffi Graf in the U.S. Open final. But this subject obviously is a sore point with Navratilova, who had been No. 1 for five years before encountering a mid-season slump.

"I don't want to talk about that," she said. "If I do, I'll be here another 20 minutes, and I have to catch a plane."

Navratilova had just won both the singles and doubles titles--to the surprise of no one--in the $75,000 Audi Challenge before an overflow crowd of 2,800 at the Rancho San Clemente Tennis and Fitness Club. She outlasted Pam Shriver in the singles final, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, then teamed with Shriver to win the doubles from Wendy Turnbull and Liz Smylie, 7-5, 6-3.

Actually, the tournament was only a series of exhibitions, but the singles victory added $20,000 to Navratilova's bankroll, and she also won a $25,000 Audi.

"It wasn't the money that I came for," she said. "I needed a car. I have one in Fort Worth, but I have a home in Aspen, too, so I needed another car. Otherwise, I would have had to go out and buy one."

As for the matter of who is No. 1, Shriver jumped in where Navratilova had declined to tread. The doubles partners are close friends, and Shriver revealed a plan to help Navratilova get back to the top.

"Whether Martina or Steffi is No. 1 is very debatable," Shriver said. "Steffi has been very consistent, and that's why she's on top in the computer rankings. On the other hand, when you win Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, as Martina did, it's pretty hard for people to overlook you.

"The trouble is, it's going to be tough to catch Steffi in the computer. Even if Martina beats her in a couple of finals, it won't be enough. On top of that, Steffi is being very smart about picking her tournaments. She's not playing to win; she's playing to keep her No. 1 ranking.

"As a result, we've come up with a plan. Martina is going to try to chase her. When she finds out what tournament Steffi is playing in next, we'll both go there. I'll be seeded third, whic1746955621semifinals. If that works a couple of times, Martina should be back on top."

Graf began her alleged ducking act by withdrawing from the U.S. Open doubles after losing to Navratilova in the singles final.

"I don't think that was a good move on Steffi's part," Shriver said. "She's a very fine player, but I wonder whether someone is going to show a little glimmer of vulnerability in her one of these days."

Navratilova did talk willingly about the role of the press, not only where she is concerned but how it has affected the race for the presidency of the United States.

"If you want to force people like Gary Hart out of the race, when do you stop?" she said. "If you want a saint, get Pope John Paul. You can't even trust evangelists anymore. "As for my relationship with the press, it's gotten a lot better. If something bad is written about me, I have no recourse, so I keep my mouth shut. Otherwise, I would just make it worse. It keeps going in snowballs. The regular writers are OK. It's the one-timers that are looking for trash.

"Of course, I get asked the same questions over and over, so I just make up things. At least that's harmless."

Shriver has beaten Navratilova only three times, and not at all since 1982, yet she almost invariably forces Martina to three sets.

"Today's match was typical," Navratilova said. "I've beaten her somewhere between 28 and 31 times, but she's always tough. Like today, I'd pull away and she'd keep coming back. It was a real tug of war.

"The difference is that my passing shots are a little bit better than Pam's, and I hit the ball harder."

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