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- The Cash was launderedPeter Gammons | May 02, 1977
- Three and OutStewart Mandel | October 11, 2004
Too good. That's the tennis phrase for the perfect placement, the ultimate performance, and right now Martina Navratilova, her mental cobwebs long cleared away, her body and soul as healthy as can be, has the women's game pinned to the mat. In every phase of tennis, she's simply too good.
At the Virginia Slims Championships in New York City last week, Navratilova demonstrated a talent as well rounded as it is splendid. She bludgeoned opponents with her serve, outdueled them from the baseline and teased them with drop shots and lobs. Even Chris Evert Lloyd could do little to slow down Navratilova. Going into the title match on Sunday, Navratilova had won 13 of their previous 18 meetings, but six of the last eight had gone three sets. This time the knockout came by a score of 6-2, 6-0. For the year Navratilova is unbeaten in 24 matches and five tournaments, and since the start of 1982, she has won 114 of 117 matches. The three losses were to Sylvia Hanika in last year's equivalent to the Slims, to Pam Shriver in the U.S. Open in September and to Evert Lloyd in the Australian Open in December. Last week Navratilova routed all three.
"Basically, she got lucky," said Shriver with a chuckle after losing 6-1, 6-2 in the quarterfinals. "She seems to be doing that a lot lately."
As Evert Lloyd got set to take the court against Navratilova, she sat in the dark and empty Felt Forum deep inside Madison Square Garden, sharing a contemplative moment with her husband, John. Upstairs, the main arena resounded to the beat of Let's Get Physical. The look in Evert Lloyd's eyes seemed to say, "If I don't make it back, tell Mom and Dad I love them." Little more than an hour later, Navratilova had swept 10 straight games en route to handing Evert Lloyd the worst loss of her career. "She really cleaned my clock today," said Evert Lloyd. "That was one of her better matches. I hope."
A hint of how the afternoon would go came early. With Team Navratilova, the squadron that handles everything from strategy to dessert for Martina, sitting jauntily at courtside, Navratilova threw in a drop shot on the first point. How's that for confidence? Time and again she disrupted Evert Lloyd's rhythm by luring her off the baseline with drops. Only once did Evert Lloyd retaliate with a winner; seven other times she either missed the return or it was picked off by Navratilova.
So complete was the destruction that one needed a flight recorder to document and interpret the wreckage, but in retrospect the fifth game was as pivotal as any. Evert Lloyd had triple break point, but her chances sailed away on an unforced forehand mistake, a bad service return and two solid backhands from Navratilova. "Basically, the match was over then," said Renee Richards, the engineer behind Navratilova's on-court mechanics. "That's got to tell you something about Martina's level of play. Chrissie doesn't win that game and she's out of the match."
Richards' X's and O's dictated that Navratilova keep the ball on Evert Lloyd's backhand because she doesn't relish hitting down the line with her two-hander, which she must do to reach Navratilova's backhand. As the match progressed. Evert Lloyd's cross-court shots ducked right into Navratilova's wheel-house forehand. Result: Navratilova made only nine unforced errors.
Still, Team Navratilova predicts its charge will get even better. When Robert Haas, the nutritionist of the group, was queried about the specifics of Navratilova's diet, Nancy Lieberman, who's in charge of her conditioning and psyche, interrupted and said, "The only red meat Martina eats is her opponents. And she's been devouring them lately. And you know what? She's not even in the shape she's going to be in for the French Open. Wait'll you see her. I promise a totally different Martina. It'll be unbelievable."
How will this be accomplished? "I can't tell you," replied Lieberman. "We don't share secrets."
Along with Richards, Lieberman and Haas, Team Navratilova includes Rick Elstein, a "reflex trainer" who works out of the Syosset Tennis Academy on Long Island. Presumably Elstein is working on Navratilova's blink time. Also part of the group is Pam Derderian, who, Lieberman insists, is her agent, although the other players on tour call her The Dogwalker because more often than not she can be found in the company of one of Navratilova's pooches. "If she's a dogwalker, she makes a hell of a lot of money for me," says Lieberman.