Printer Friendly

NAVRATILOVA DELIGHTS IN DOING THINGS HER WAY ON THE COURT OR OFF, TENNIS LEGEND HAS BEEN A UNIQUE PRESENCE.

Byline: GREG HERNANDEZ Staff Writer

So many tennis legends dream of a storybook ending to their careers, of winning that last match point before taking a final bow, packing up their rackets and walking off the court.

But so very few are able to go out in such a winning way. Not Andre Agassi. Not Jimmy Connors. Not Chris Evert. Not Bjorn Borg. Pete Sampras ended his career with a win at the U.S. Open, but no one knew then -- including him -- that he would later decide to retire without ever playing another pro match.

That leaves Martina Navratilova, who, after 31 seasons on the pro tour, got her storybook ending -- even though she had to retire twice to get it. One month shy of her 50th birthday, she teamed up with Bob Bryan of Camarillo to win the U.S. Open mixed doubles title Sept. 9 in what she previously had declared would be her last tournament.

``It was really sweet, my career ended the way it was supposed to end,'' Navratilova said. ``I played really good ball. It was satisfying on so many levels.''

Navratilova, who is being honored in Los Angeles tonight by the gay rights group Lambda Legal at the Director's Guild of America, had come agonizingly close to a storybook ending before.

At Wimbledon in 1994, the year she retired from singles play, she fought her way to the women's final at the age of 36, only to lose in three sets to Conchita Martinez.

Fast-forward 12 years. Navratilova, who rejoined the tour as a doubles specialist in 2000, is playing in her last Wimbledon ever and loses both her mixed doubles and women's doubles quarterfinal matches on the same day. Adding insult to injury, both matches take place on Court 2, far away from the majestic Centre Court, where Navratilova won nine singles championships and a record-tying 20 Wimbledon titles in all.

``When I walked off, I thought: `This is not how it was supposed to end,''' she said. ``It felt so wrong. If I had won at Wimbledon, I would have quit then. But I felt like I could play better and like I needed to win something.''

The win with Bryan provided the finish Navratilova had been itching for. In the seven seasons since her return, Navratilova had won the mixed doubles titles at Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2003 and made the U.S. Open women's doubles final that same year. But then followed nearly three years of Grand Slam frustration.

``It made me feel like I wasn't done yet,'' said the ultra-competitive Navratilova, winner of 59 Grand Slam titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. ``You can't do it all, you need to pick a good partners in doubles. I was lucky with some. (Bob Bryan) really wanted to win this one for me.''

Billie Jean King, who won the 1979 Wimbledon doubles and 1980 U.S. Open doubles with Navratilova, called the achievement ``awesome.''

``She is the best singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who ever lived,'' King said. ``I'm just so happy for her.''

During her second career as a player, Navratilova always was the crowd favorite, no longer the powerful villain who dethroned the popular Evert, lost only six matches from 1982-84 and won six straight Wimbledon singles titles and a record 74 consecutive matches at one point.

But along the way, it became clear that while the crowds always loved Evert, the outspoken Navratilova had earned their respect ... then their affection.

``I think they got to understand me for who I am and what I stand for,'' she said. ``They know that I speak my mind, and they still respect me even if they don't agree. You can be politically opposed, but you can still respect me. It took awhile for people to figure that out. Now I'm in the position to say whatever I want.''

They respected her for always being honest about being a lesbian, for speaking candidly about controversial issues and for the courage she showed in 1975 when, after losing a semifinal match to Evert at the U.S. Open, she defected from then-communist Czechoslovakia. She was just 18.

Since then, Navratilova never has backed down from a challenge or worried much about cultivating any kind of manufactured public image.

``Once you leave your family behind and don't know when you will see them again, everything else is peanuts,'' she said. ``I personally couldn't see what was wrong with being gay.''

Navratilova said she always lived her life honestly.

``Everything that I've done, I've known what the consequences will be, but I'm willing to accept them,'' she said. ``If I didn't come out and pretended I was someone else, what are those consequences? I would not be who I am. Not being accepted by Madison Avenue because I was a lesbian, I could accept those consequences. My guidelines are totally philosophical and what's morally right to me. I was never guided by financial gain.''

It is that attitude, and Navratilova's steadfast support of the gay rights movement, that made the leadership of Lambda Legal so eager to honor her.

``We see her as just being an outstanding spokeswoman for our field,'' said Katherine Gabel, Lambda Legal's west region director. ``She's been out front and devoted to our cause, an inspiration and a role model who gives back to her community.''

Navratilova said the award seems premature, but she is grateful.

``I feel like it's too soon, like I haven't done everything I want to do,'' she said. `` Still, it's nice to be recognized in the midst of the battle. ... For me, it's not just about equal rights for lesbians, but for human beings.''

greg.hernandez@dailynews.com

(818) 713-3758

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

(color) Martina Navratilova gets a kiss from Bob Bryan after they won the mixed doubles title at the U.S. Open earlier this month.

Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
COPYRIGHT 2006 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 26, 2006
Words:991
Previous Article:BROWN IS FOCUSED ON POSITIVE CENTER AIMING TO HAVE BREAKOUT SEASON FOR LAKERS.
Next Article:THAT'S HOT! HOME PIZZA OVENS, AN INDULGENT PLEASURE, GIVE YOU THE GOODS IN NO TIME FLAT.


Related Articles
MARTINA NAVRATILOVA & AMELIE MAURESMO.
A SIDEWAYS GLANCE : OUR GUESS IS, YOU CAN'T DO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS `EXPERT'.
JOYS OF MOTHERHOOD SERVE EVERT NOWADAYS.
WTA CHAMPIONSHIPS: NAVRATILOVA HOLDS COURT AT STAPLES HER PRESENCE OVERSHADOWS SCHEDULED WTA MATCHES.
This is middle age? Martina's back--winning two more Grand Slam titles and, at 47, beating players half her age.
46-YEAR-OLD SAUGUS MAN LIVING LEGEND IN PADDLE TENNIS CELEBRITIES, OTHERS PAY $70 AN HOUR TO VOLLEY WITH SOLLY.
Hello Olivia, goodbye Rainbow: is the L Word really why Martina Navratilova parted ways with the Rainbow Card and signed on with Olivia?
Second set: for transgender tennis star Renee Richards, the generation gap looms larger than the gender gap. Her latest book, No Way Renee, continues...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters