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Navratilova, Lloyd Still Unchallenged

The Washington Post

For two weeks now, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd have been asked repeatedly which young players they think will challenge their dominance of women’s tennis in the near-future.

Thursday, after Navratilova and Evert had reached the final of the French Open without losing a set or even playing a tiebreaker in the tournament, Lloyd finally answered the question.

“I think as long as Martina and I are still mentally eager to play, we’re going to be No. 1 and No. 2,” she said. “The girls that have the potential to be No. 1 will succeed us. I don’t think they’ll replace us.”

That was never more apparent than on Thursday. Navratilova, by her own admission, played poorly, yet still defeated Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 6-4, 6-4, without so much as a scary moment. By contrast, Lloyd played superbly in romping past 15-year-old Gabriela Sabatini, 6-4, 6-1.

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Their victories mean that, for the 14th straight time, dating to the 1981 U.S. Open, either Navratilova, 28, or Lloyd, 30, will be the winner of a Grand Slam event. Navratilova, who has won 15 of their last 16 meetings, leads the rivalry, 33-31.

This was a strange day at Roland Garros. Rain delayed the start of play by an hour and then held up Navratilova’s match for 20 minutes early in the first set.

Kohde-Kilsch, the 6-1 West German who upset Hana Mandlikova in the quarterfinals, had said she had nothing to lose against Navratilova. Yet she played most of the match as if she were terrified, double-faulting eight times and missing easy shots repeatedly.

Usually such a performance against Navratilova will result in that player’s elimination in about 40 minutes. But not Thursday. Navratilova simply wasn’t herself. She served poorly--six double-faults--and botched volleys she normally puts away easily.

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When someone asked her if she would agree that it was not one of her finest performances, Navratilova laughed. “You should be a diplomat,” she said. “I was good enough to win, and that’s nice. But I just wasn’t sharp. I didn’t play well and I didn’t serve well. I think if Claudia had played better, I would have played better.”

While Navratilova won on a day she would probably rather forget, Lloyd won a match that gave her great satisfaction. Sabatini is the one most people expect to take over when Navratilova and Lloyd do step aside, and Thursday, most in the crowd were behind the youngster.

Lloyd, a crowd favorite since she was 16, is not used to feeling hostility. “It was a strange feeling for me,” she admitted. “Most of the time, crowds are for me. The shoe was on the other foot today. I understood why they were for Gabriela because I remember what it was like when I was 16. But it was unusual. I think today it helped me because it made me a little more determined.”

Sabatini has the shots to beat Lloyd, but not the experience. After Sabatini had closed a 5-1 first-set deficit to 5-4 and 30-all, Lloyd played near-perfect tennis. She won the set with a tough backhand that Sabatini ran down but lobbed long.

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Briefly, Sabatini appeared ready to make it a match early in the second set. She held her serve in the opening game and had Lloyd in trouble in the second.

But Lloyd, with the crowd booing loudly, got some help from the umpire. At 30-all, she hit a backhand that was called out. Lloyd argued, and without so much as checking the mark on the clay, the line judge reversed her call.

The point was replayed. This time, Sabatini ripped a backhand down the line. It was called out. By now, the scoreboard operator was so confused, he awarded Sabatini the game. As the crowd hooted, Lloyd waited for quiet and shrugged.

After Sabatini got to deuce, Lloyd whacked a backhand winner and then knocked a backhand past Sabatini for the game.

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Although Sabatini claimed later that losing that game didn’t affect her, she played differently the rest of the match, winning just five points in the last four games.


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