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U.S. Open Women’s Matches : Navratilova Wins, Then Takes a Shot at Slam

Special to The Times

Whether Martina Navratilova is making strange statements--or perhaps quirky ones--at the U.S. Open is certainly a matter of opinion.

After all, Navratilova did once lecture reporters for 10 minutes about the difference between the words entourage and coterie. And last year, after winning the women’s singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles, she figured she needed to talk about the exorbitant food prices at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow.

But now that 19-year-old Steffi Graf, the future of women’s tennis, has caught up with the present and pushed Navratilova almost into the past, Navratilova has resorted to dramatic measures.

Navratilova, who easily defeated Australia’s Anne Minter in the third round Friday, 6-1, 6-3, has a new topic of discussion. She has taken offense this week at the sentiment that her International Tennis Federation-sanctioned “modern” Grand Slam in 1984 was a pseudo Slam, since it wasn’t accomplished in one calendar year.

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For a tennis player to score a Grand Slam, he or she must win the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon in the same year. Navratilova had consecutive victories in those tournaments but spread them over two years.

“Well, it was recognized by a lot of people as a Grand Slam,” Navratilova said. “I got a sizable ($1-million) bonus. Now it’s kind of pushed aside. There was a parade in Australia for past Grand Slam champions, and I was there along with Margaret (Court), Don (Budge) and Rod (Laver). Then I get here and it’s, well, that the last Grand Slam was 18 years ago.”

Navratilova went on at considerable length about the Grand Slam, concluding with: “If you really go for the Grand Slam in one calendar year, nobody could have won it.”

Have Court, Budge, Laver and Maureen Connolly had us fooled all these years?

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In any event, it should be interesting, if Graf wins it--in the same calendar year--to see whether Navratilova considers it a Slam.

Chris Evert, for one, doesn’t think you can change the rules in the middle of a game.

“To win six (Grand Slam events) in a row, I think (Navratilova) should definitely get a lot of credit for that alone,” Evert said. “As far as winning four in one year (goes), that is the rule, and she didn’t do that. Maybe she belongs right there along with them, but you just can’t start changing the rules for one person.

Evert knows how Navratilova likes to get herself ready for important tournaments. After all, she’s probably one of the few people who is still around from the days before there was a Team Navratilova.

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“She is confident, whether she is winning or losing,” Evert said. “We have heard this all year. We heard that she is going to win every Grand Slam (event), and she hasn’t.

“I think that Martina is the best woman athlete I have seen in my life. . . . She is the epitome of a great woman athlete, and it helps to pump herself up to say these things.”

One might think that Graf, who is only 19 and is going for a rare Grand Slam, would be the one making odd statements. However, Graf neatly dispatched the Navratilova-inspired controversy the same way she takes care of her opponents.

“I don’t care,” Graf said. “I just want to do my best.”

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Helping Navratilova do her best is a former member of her, well, coterie, who is back strolling the grounds and holding her own press conferences.

It is none other than Nancy Lieberman, the former basketball player who once served as Navratilova’s conditioning coach.

Lieberman, who traveled with Navratilova’s group in 1981-84, said: “She’s only 31, but she should be able to play at this level for three more years if she wants.

“I knew I could help her because she trusts me. There’s a lot of respect there. Both of us are world-class athletes. I don’t have a league, but I’m still a player. I know something about motivation.”

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Lieberman is putting clippings of quotes--what people are saying about Navratilova--on the bathroom mirror. Things having to do with retirement and being over the hill.

The other women’s matches went, for the most part, according to form with the exception of unseeded Stephanie Rehe’s 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 victory over No. 10 Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in a third-round contest. Rehe, though, has played good tennis all summer, and Kohde-Kilsch has not, so the result shouldn’t really be considered an upset.

The other surprise, a mild one, occurred when Elna Reinach beat No. 13 Mary Joe Fernandez in the third round, 7-5, 6-3.

There was little chance of surprise in Evert’s second-round match against a National Collegiate Athletic Assn. finalist, Halle Cioffi. Evert, 33, a 6-1, 6-0 winner, could have beaten Cioffi, 19, even if she had been coming off a five-week layoff from tournaments.

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Oh that’s right, Evert already did that when she beat Cioffi, losing only two games, in a tournament last month in Los Angeles just after she married Andy Mill.


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