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Talk about a cat with nine lives. If there is anything more remarkable than Martina Navratilova, that grandest of tabbies, winning her record 99th match at the All England Club and still another record ninth Wimbledon championship last week, it is the identities of the women she didn't have to beat to reach those plateaus.
Navratilova didn't play Chris Evert, NBC's own, although she did have to curtsy before her old rival, who happened to be sitting in the Royal Box one day when Navratilova strode onto the greensward. She didn't play Monica Seles, the hottest player in the game, who had arrived in London with 32 straight match victories. She didn't play Steffi Graf, the No. 1 player not only in the world but also in the gutter of Fleet Street journalism—THIS TART IS RUINING MY GAME SAYS STEFFI, screamed The Sun. And she didn't even have to play Helen Wills Moody Roark, who couldn't be bothered to leave her Carmel, Calif., home and defend the record of eight titles she shared with Navratilova.
Ms. Roark is 84.
"Nine? I can't even comprehend one [ Wimbledon title]. That's amazing...unrealistic," said Zina Garrison, who pulled off a semi-amazing stunt of her own by upsetting both Seles and Graf to reach the finals, where the newly industrious Lady Z was finally put to rest, 6-4, 6-1, zzzzzz.
The octogenarian Roark might have been heavier traffic than some of Navratilova's early-round patsies, among them Katerina Maleeva, who won two games in a match that lasted barely the time it took to figure out which of the three Maleeva sisters entered at Wimbledon she was, and Karin Kschwendt, who won another two games before admitting, "It was so strange to see Martina live [rather than on TV]. My heart was booming. I was maybe too impressed." Maybe.
Moreover, in the last two rounds Navratilova had only to go through the motions against two opponents—Gabriela Sabatini, who was experiencing her own tragedy (a former boyfriend calling her "a fat duck," according to the ever-vigilant Sun) and Garrison—against whom she now has a combined 41-4 career record. Even Navratilova acknowledged it would have been "more fitting" if two-time defending champion Graf, her tennis suddenly patchy, her thoughts obviously scrambled over her father's alleged dalliance with a Playboy model, had joined her in the final. But, said Navritilova, "I had prepared for Wimbledon. The event overtakes any single person. I didn't care if I scraped and scratched to get this. They don't put an asterisk next to your name saying you won but didn't play that well." In fact, Navratilova played like a dream.
In contrast to the men's competition, which proceeded rather predictably right down to the third consecutive meeting in the finals between Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg—Edberg winning 6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4—the women's draw again provided the more scintillating drama, both on and off the court.
But this should now be expected when Edberg, who also beat Becker to win Wimbledon in 1988, dominates a tournament. Edberg, an otherwise kind, pleasant fellow, evinces all the personality of one of those "unattended packages" left about the grounds that kept interrupting the All England matches.
"I don't think I'm playing worse than I did in '88," Edberg said early in the tournament, which was his way of mounting a soapbox and screaming that he was ready to win again.