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Lloyd wins Sixth French Open Title, Beats Navratilova

Times Staff Writer

The loser called it an “incredible match.” And she added: “This probably was the best Grand Slam final we’ve ever played. For sure, it was the closest and most suspenseful.”

The winner described it as “certainly one of the most dramatic matches I’ve ever played in.”

For the spectators at the women’s championship match of the French Open at Roland Garros Stadium here Saturday between two arch-rivals, it was a heart-stopper from start to finish.

When it finally ended after nearly three exhausting hours, Chris Evert Lloyd had won it, 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, thus dethroning Martina Navratilova, who, as Lloyd recalled in a postmatch interview, “last year at this time just blew me out of here.”

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It was the sixth French Open women’s singles title for Lloyd, tying the record held by Suzanne Lenglen of France in the 1920s. Also, it matches the six men’s singles titles won by Bjorn Borg of Sweden before retiring in 1983.

Beside being epic sports drama, the contest had a little of everything, including June weather which ranged from raw and windy to sunny and windy--but always windy.

The play was equally as varied. Much of the time the shotmaking was elegant, distinguished by the kind of finesse that is required on the slow red clay of Roland Garros. But, in some instances, the competitors lapsed into downright sloppiness.

Still, whether the play was superb or inferior implicit in the character of the match was a wrenching suspense as the momentum switched from one player to the other.

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Lloyd, who Saturday compensated for a series of humiliations by Navratilova in major matches in recent years, grabbed a surprising early edge, staking herself to a 3-0 lead in the first set.

Navratilova said later she remembered thinking at that time, “Hey, I’m playing pretty well. What’s going on here?”

The native Czech, who is now a U.S. citizen, pulled even at 3-3 by attacking with the verve which historically has characterized her game. Then she became careless, and Lloyd quickly seized on her rival’s impatience by moving her around the court and passing her with deep cross courts and shots down the line when Navratilova tried to take over the net.

In the second set, Lloyd again took an early lead. But then it appeared that what was believed to be inevitable before the contest began would come to pass. Lloyd became tentative, trying to play it safe, and Navratilova became more adventurous with her shots, a strategy that worked, particularly in the second-set tiebreaker which she won, 7-4.

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Lloyd said later of those stressful moments: “Martina raised the level of her game, especially on the big points. I was getting disheartened. I kept getting leads and they just kept slipping away. I just kept saying to myself, ‘hang in there.’ I sensed she was getting nervous, too.”

Hang in there, Lloyd did.

In the final set, the play of both women ofttimes became patchy. They appeared to be trading disasters. But Lloyd righted herself in the seventh and eighth games of the final set, sometimes by uncharacteristically visiting the net to put away volleys.

Lloyd, 30, took a 5-3 lead over Navratilova, 28, by closing out the eighth game with what was, until then, the best shot of the match. Navratilova, trailing 0-40, hit what appeared to be a sure winner deep in the corner of Lloyd’s deuce court. But the Floridian countered with a slashing cross court forehand which left her opponent shaking her head.

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At that critical juncture, Lloyd again appeared to lose her concentration, and a fired-up Navratilova reeled off two straight games in which she lost only a single point.

With the match more than 2 1/2 hours old, Lloyd appeared spent as the third set stood at five games each. She double-faulted on the first point of the 11th game, and lost the next two through pure carelessness.

“I wasn’t really confident at 5-all. Especially when I was down 0-40 on my serve. On the big points, Martina was just getting better in the later going,” Lloyd said. “At 5-all, and down 0-40, on paper I had lost the match.”

But she had not lost it on the court.

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Lloyd reached back into her reserves and evened the game at deuce, then won it by taking the next two points, the second of which resulted from a forehand netted by Navratilova as she moved in following a killer approach shot.

Both women played the final game of the match beautifully, hitting deep, wide shots and performing at the peak of their excellence. But, on the final two points, Lloyd was just a little bit more the excellent of the two.

With the score at 40-all, Navratilova sought to volley a difficult Lloyd return of service, and ended up putting the ball into the net. Then, at match point, Lloyd drilled a passing shot down the line, which she said later, “I really was proud of”, to close out the match.

It was the second consecutive Grand Slam title for Lloyd, who won the Australian Open last December.

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The contest was the 65th between the pair during a rivalry which began a dozen years ago. The score now stands at Navratilova 33 and Lloyd 32.

The win unquestionably was one of the most satisfying ever for Lloyd, whose prospects of ever again defeating her friendly, but fierce, rival had all but been written off by most aficionados of the sport.

Lloyd said her victory “comes at an interesting time. If I had lost, I really would have been depressed about my tennis,” she said, conceding that she had been considering imminent retirement. Now, she said, “it makes me want to play” and “try even to get better.”

She said, however, she still considers Navratilova the world’s No. 1 woman player and a “great champion. That’s why it was such a thrill to beat her today.”

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Navratilova, who said she had difficulty getting into the rhythm of her service, and nailing her shots as close to the line as she would have preferred, because the wind “was totally unpredictable,” contended now is no time for her foe to consider retirement.

“She’s probably playing her best tennis ever,” said Navratilova. “It’s nice to know you can improve at 30.” And she added: “It’s too bad anyone had to lose today. I would have said that, even if I had won. But you don’t have draws in tennis.”

Navratilova, the No. 1-seeded player, and Lloyd, the No. 2, lost nary a set in their six previous matches which landed them in Saturday’s final.

The former Czech had been particularly dominating, winning her contests by scores like 6-0 and 6-0 and 6-1 and 6-0.

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In the men’s singles final today, No. 2-seeded Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia meets No. 4-seeded Mats Wilander of Sweden.

Both are former French Open champions. Wilander, in 1982, became the youngest player in history (age 17) to win the men’s title. Last year, Lendl beat McEnroe in five sets to win the championship.

Lendl holds a 7-5 career edge over Wilander, including four wins in their last five meetings on clay.


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