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Evert Takes Forum Exhibition in Straight Sets : Rivalry May Be Near End, but Navratilova Would Like to Play 3-5 More Years

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Chris Evert defeated longtime rival Martina Navratilova, 7-6, 7-5, in an exhibition match Sunday night at the Forum.

“We could play in a park and the competitive fires would still be burning,” Evert said.

Speculation, though, is that the fires are burning out.

Evert, 33, has talked of retiring next year.

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But Navratilova, 32, said she would like to play 3 to 5 more years.

“I’m in better shape than I was 3 years ago, and that’s not just in my head--it’s actually based on testing,” said Navratilova, who was 70-7 this year, but failed to win a major tournament as Steffi Graf of West Germany won the Grand Slam. “I know my body is fine, but it’s up here that’s been a problem.”

She tapped her head.

“I’ve put too much pressure on myself thinking this was going to be my last year,” Navratilova said. “When I’ve played in big events, it’s been a lot tougher because I’ve thought, ‘If I don’t win now, this may be my last chance.’ ”

Does she have the desire to play 5 more years?

“Absolutely,” she said. “I mean, I do it so well. They keep trying to get us retired, but what else am I going to do as well as play tennis? Nothing ever, probably.

“And, obviously, as you saw by the attendance (6,514) tonight, there are still plenty of people that want to see us play. I still think I have some good tennis in me. If I thought I’d never win a Grand Slam event again in my life, I would not be playing.”

Tracy Austin, who continued her comeback by playing in an exhibition doubles match in a prelude to the Navratilova-Evert match, said afterward that she is in no hurry to return to singles competition.

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Austin, 25, has yet to play without a partner since returning to competitive tennis last summer after a 5-year absence.

She and John Lloyd defeated Pete Sampras and Peanut Louie Harper, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

“I expect that it’s going to be very difficult,” Austin said. “I’m the first one to say that I know it’s going to be frustrating, but I’m making the decision to go back and play because I really want to play and compete.

“I’m always my own worst enemy, but I’m going to have to be patient. Billie Jean (King) said that I should give myself a year and to expect the worst in the beginning. She’s had comebacks, but I was out 5 years. That’s a very long time.

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“While the other players were practicing every day, I was dancing with my friends and traveling and having a good time.”

Does she expect to return to singles next year?

“I hope so,” she said.

But Austin, who ended her injury-induced absence by entering a tournament in San Diego in August, has not established a timetable for her return.

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“I’m kind of going with the flow as I have throughout this comeback,” she said. “I’m seeing how I feel and not commiting myself too far down the line--just making sure I’m still enjoying it.

“I entered three tournaments (last summer) and when I was finished with those, I said, ‘OK, now what do I want to play?’ And then I entered some more. That’s what I’ve done all along the way.

“It wouldn’t be fair to myself to set a timetable.”

Austin, though, said her comeback is going pretty well.

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Last month, she and Stephanie Rehe, who withdrew from Sunday’s exhibition because of an ankle injury and was replaced by Harper, beat U.S. Open doubles champions Robin White and Gigi Fernandez at a tournament in New Orleans.

“I have a long way to go, but I also feel like I’ve come a long way since San Diego,” said Austin, who won the U.S. Open as a 16-year-old in 1979, climbed to No. 1 in the computer rankings in 1980 and won the U.S. Open again in 1981. “I go out there and I play and I enjoy it. It’s gradual improvement.


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