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Martina's Adieu Said With Haste : French Open: In her final singles at Roland Garros Stadium, Navratilova loses in the first round to Oremans.

May 24, 1994|ELLIOTT ALMOND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Martina Navratilova's final French Open singles match ended Monday with a smash. It was not, however, the mark of a winner.

When Navratilova slammed her racket to the red clay surface after a 6-4, 6-4 defeat by No. 50 Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands, it was an emotional outburst that underscored a disappointing return to Roland Garros Stadium after a six-year absence.

She then threw the twisted racket into a trash can, where a fan claimed it as a souvenir. And then she left Court 1 without looking at her fans as she waved goodby.

Navratilova, 36, still is playing doubles and mixed doubles here, but Monday's elimination obviously hurt.

"I have never done that before," she said of smashing her racket. "And I hope I never will again. But at that point I was too disappointed to care about anything."

Navratilova, playing in her final French Open, had hoped for a farewell worthy of her 18 singles titles in Grand Slam tournaments, including two in Paris. Her worst performances here before Monday were in 1988 and 1983, when she lost in the fourth round.

Navratilova had not lost in the first round of a Grand Slam event since the 1976 U.S. Open. Oremans was 3 at the time.

Navratilova, ranked fourth, was the biggest loser on the French Open's first day, which also marked the debut of a new 10,000-seat showcase stadium, Court A. Joining her on the sidelines, though, was No. 13 Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria, who was upset by No. 96 Ruxandra Dragomir of Romania, 6-3, 7-5.

Top-ranked Steffi Graf, trying for her fifth consecutive victory in a Grand Slam event, rolled to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Katarina Studenikova of Slovakia.

Navratilova's loss did little to help the women's competition, already lacking former stars Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati.

"I think she will be missed very badly, not only from the public, but from the players," Graf said of Navratilova. "She is such a personality that she is going to leave a big gap."

But there was a bigger gap between Navratilova and Oremans. Oremans, 21, looked like the veteran, forcing Navratilova to chase balls across the court.

"Martina had nothing on her shots," said Virginia Wade, a former Wimbledon champion.

The match seemed to turn on the sixth game of the second set with Navratilova leading, 3-2. She had a chance to take a 4-2 lead when she fended off two game points, and took the advantage. But Oremans' aggressive net play saved the serve as she won three consecutive points to pull to 3-3.

"Martina has always been a front-runner," Wade said. "After losing that game, she starts looking depressed, not sure if she is going to fight."

Oremans sensed as much.

"I was telling myself, 'If I win this game, I have got a lot of chance (to win),' " she said.

Monday's victory was one of the first positive moments of the year for Oremans, who lives in a village in the southern Netherlands.

"It is a village with 9,000 inhabitants," she said.

And eight clay courts.

She dropped dramatically in the rankings this year after suffering a torn leg muscle before the Australian Open. She played anyway, aggravating the injury.

Oremans said that with rest and treatment, she recuperated and her hard-hitting game returned. For Navratilova, it could not have happened at a worse time.

"I finally will get to go the Louvre," Navratilova said.

Navratilova said she did not want to think about ending a long career at Roland Garros, where she played in six finals.

"I get misty eyed," she said. "I think that is why I was more affected by losing, because I know this is the last time.

"I think because I played so many years, it is that much more difficult to let go."

But Monday she had no choice.

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