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MIKE DOWNEY

Will We See This Headline 5 More Years? Why Not?

August 16, 1993|MIKE DOWNEY

I went to the final of a women's tennis tournament Sunday where the winner was--don't faint now--Martina Navratilova.

Hey, there's a headline you don't see every day:

Navratilova Wins Tennis Tournament.

If my math is correct, this was the 2,000,000,000th singles victory of the 2,000-year-old Martina's career.

Can the grande dame of the Grand Slams still play? You bet your sweet Yonex she can.

The Marterminator's latest success came Sunday in the championship match of the 22nd annual Tobacco Division of Kraft Foods tournament (I don't plug cigarette brands, folks) in Manhattan Beach.

There, she defeated Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, one of the very few women in professional sports with an x in her name, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4), before a crowd of 6,166 that included 6,165 well-behaved spectators and Bill Clinton's brother, Roger.

The winner added another $75,000 to her savings account, which she will use to go out and buy the Czechoslovakia Orioles or something.

Over lo these many years, some of us have seen Navratilova win so many matches, we feel as though we are wasting away in Martinaville.

But, what the heck, we still love ya, kid.

"We love you, Martina!" a man in the grandstand yelled.

"I love you, too," she yelled back. "Who are you?"

This was the eighth time that Navratilova has won this particular tournament. The first time, I believe, her opponent was Gussie Moran.

Martina is so old, she remembers white tennis balls.

No, OK, seriously, she's not really all that old, you know. Nolan Ryan's got around 10 years on her and George Burns maybe 60.

And, she can still swing that thing. Out there hacking against a 21-year-old with fresh legs and a Peppermint Patty face, Navratilova was breathing heavily and hanging around waiting for an opportunity to change into a dry shirt when she suddenly caught her second wind and blew Sanchez Vicario away.

Did I say second wind?

I'm pretty sure Martina is on about her ninth wind by now.

Being kind of an old windbag myself, I have seen Navratilova's career take many shapes and forms. I have seen a pudgy Martina, a platinum Martina, a carefree Martina, a weepy Martina, a winsome Martina, a win-some-you-lose-some Martina, an unpopular Martina and a crowd-pleasing Martina like the one Sunday who seemed to have most of Manhattan Beach in her corner, including the chair umpire.

Not that madam chairwoman played favorites. Jan Ryan was simply in such a hurry to crown the queen that she announced, "Game, set and match," a bit too soon. (I hear she also shouts, "Bingo!" after four numbers.)

Sanchez Vicario was so perplexed by some of the calls that she paddled her head with the strings of her tennis racket, boink, boink, boink , in disbelief.

But matches with Martina Navratilova have often ended up with opponents staring in disbelief.

I mean, the woman never goes away, does she? She is still something like one bad case of Steffi Graf tennis elbow away from being No. 1 in the world again. Monica Seles, well, that poor dear has gone and dropped off the face of the tennis Earth again, and the only noteworthy things Jennifer Capriati has ever won are a gold medal at the Olympic Games and a contract to endorse Oil of Olay.

On television the other day, Chris Evert was speaking of her old adversary Navratilova and was of the opinion that this was a far better time professionally than it was personally for Martina. Among other things, the women nearest and dearest to Martina keep writing tell-all books about their personal lives, including Nancy Lieberman revealing an intimate truth never before revealed and Judy Nelson blabbing practically everything but Navratilova's home phone number.

If nothing else, though, Navratilova is resilient.

She figured out for herself--as others failed to do--that there is no shame or tedium in being the No. 3 or No. 4 player in the world after previously having been No. 1, and that nobody is going to sit in the bleachers crabbing: "Hey, Grandma! Give it a rest!"

If you can play, play.

"I can't decide whether to hang it up or play for five more years," Navratilova said.

Game, set . . .

"Well, not five more years," she corrected.

I don't know why. In five years, let's see, if my math is correct, Martina will be 41, going on 19.

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