- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Navratilova has a consuming desire to play that way again, particularly at Wimbledon, which begins on June 26. So while most of the tennis world was sliding across the red clay of Roland Garros at the French Open last week, Martina was working out on grass in Hilton Head, S.C., preparing for her quest to win an unprecedented ninth plate. (Helen Wills Moody is the only other player to have won eight.) Waiting for Navratilova at the All England Club, almost undoubtedly, will be Steffi Graf, the reigning terminator of women's tennis and the player who defeated her in last year's Wimbledon final. Navratilova is 7-4 against the 20-year-old Graf, but that '88 Wimbledon match is the only time they have played since '87.
The root of Martina's Wimbledon desires are deep. Wimbledon was the fairytale vision in the head of the wiry little girl who practiced and practiced on Prague's dusty Klamovka Park courts. "It was the one dream you were allowed to have," she says. Arriving in 1973 at her first Wimbledon, she knelt and touched the grass.
"In 1985," says Shriver, "we lost the doubles final. That ended our 109-match streak. We sat and reflected on those two years and two months without losing, and had an emotional moment. We felt it was good that it ended, if it had to, at Wimbledon. She won the singles that year but was sad about losing the doubles. That's sport. The overlapping emotions."
Navratilova seems to have many overlapping drives. One is a recurring wish to prove something to someone, or everyone. "It's a trait," says Nelson. "Caring about what others think. As much as she'll say the crowd doesn't matter, it does. It's not the force it once was, but it will always be there."
"I realize it's silly and unnecessary to be doing anything to prove things to people," says Navratilova. "But the ninth Wimbledon is a personal thing, a goal. If I reach that, I may hang it up, but I definitely won't feel anymore that I have to prove anything to anyone. My career will be complete."
Inside, she knows it can't possibly be that neat, a career all wrapped and tied with a bow. Competitive hungers have shaped her life. They cannot be shut off. Besides, trying to prove things through victory may be trying for more than artifacts can guarantee. Her reaction to the ovation she was given after losing the U.S. Open final in 1981 to Tracy Austin at Flushing Meadow was proof that she can be reduced to bawling jelly by unqualified acceptance.
Navratilova's place in tennis history could not be more secure. Her 17 Grand Slam singles championships place her fourth on the women's alltime list, behind only Margaret Smith Court, who has 24, Moody (19) and Evert (18). Navratilova's 50 Grand Slam titles overall are second only to Court's 62. Yet if this complex, hopelessly candid, serve-and-volley champion wants to win the universal embrace of a society that safely hugs the baseline, she probably cannot do any more than she already has.
Still, the pressure on Navratilova to win may be increasing. "Pressure grows simply with experience," says Navratilova, "When you're a kid, you don't feel it; you just hit the ball. When you get older, it means more. And there's much more to control because you know so much more. As house and business and family responsibilities grow, it takes more effort to block them out. I'm a nervous wreck before a big match. Chris and I agree it's gotten worse. At 18, we were cooler."
Early this year, the psychological and emotional demands Navratilova places on herself became too much. "I knew for a while I needed a rest," she says, "but it never occurred to me to take it during the French, during a Grand Slam tournament."
She has always given herself completely to the relentless cycle of majors, taking an "off-season" of only a few weeks in December. This year, for the first time in 17 seasons, that respite wasn't enough. "With hindsight, I wish I hadn't played the Australian [in January], but it never entered my mind not to," she says.