For Navratilova, Nine Is Perfect at Wimbledon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wimbledon brought Martina Navratilova to her knees Saturday afternoon at Centre Court, where she knelt quietly for a few seconds. Then she stood, looked up at the sky and shook her head in wonder.

She was a queen surveying her realm, every blade of grass. Navratilova laid claim to the world's most famous tennis tournament for the ninth time since 1978 and once again established the grass court as her personal domain.

Navratilova, 33, defeated Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1, in the Wimbledon final to break a tie with Helen Wills Moody, who had shared the previous record of eight Wimbledon singles titles.

"Nothing can top this," Navratilova said.

She defeated Garrison, a 26-year-old Texan appearing in her first Grand Slam final, by breaking her serve in the third game of both sets and again in the fifth and seventh games of the second.

When it was over, Navratilova jogged to the stands and climbed over the railing into the Friends Box. She hugged her coach, Craig Kardon, adviser Billie Jean King and longtime friend Judy Nelson.

"I first checked it out to make sure I didn't fall on my face," Navratilova said.

Later, she held the round, silver trophy high above her head, as she had eight times before.

"This tops it all," Navratilova said. "I've worked so hard for it. They say good things are worth waiting for, and I've sure been waiting for this."

Garrison made her wait 1 hour 15 minutes, but no longer. The woman who upset both Monica Seles and Steffi Graf could not keep pace with Navratilova's winning serves or accurate volleys.

On just two occasions did Navratilova hesitate in the slightest. Garrison had only two opportunities to break Navratilova and missed them both. Already down a set and a break, Garrison fell behind, 4-1, when Navrtilova hit two of her trademark shots.

At 30-30, Navratilova reached Garrison's short volley and deposited a forehand passing shot deep in the corner. Then on break point, Navratilova sent a forehand service return cross court for a winner.

Garrison said she merely caught a great champion having a great day.

"I mean, a couple of times she was moving in one direction and she'd just lunge and make great shots," Garrison said. "I mean, I hit a couple real soft and I thought I had her on the move, and she'd come up with an even better shot.

"She was a step ahead of me every time. She was definitely on. I mean, everything was clicking for her."

Garrison was hoping she would have her game clicking. She practiced before the match taking serves from left-hander Tom Gullickson, Jennifer Capriati's coach, who was playing in the over-35 division.

Watching Garrison play from the Royal Box was Althea Gibson, the only other black woman to play in the Wimbledon final. Gibson won in 1957 and '58.

But this was not to be Garrison's day. She could not interrupt history. Instead, Navratilova extended her record against Garrison to 28-1 and became the first to win Wimbledon titles in three decades.

Garrison accepted a silver plate smaller than Navratilova's and got a good look at the winner's trophy.

"I've had a great Wimbledon," Garrison said. "It's even more exciting when you get a chance to see that trophy up close than it is far away on television.

"Dreams do come true," she said. "I still believe I'm starting to become Zina Garrison, the tennis player I think I can be."

It was Garrison's second emotional Grand Slam moment. She defeated Chris Evert in Evert's final match at last year's U.S. Open, then placed herself this year between Navratilova and a record ninth championship.

So, Navratilova's reign as Wimbledon champion resumed after a two-year hiatus caused by Graf, who was not around to contest the issue this time.

"I knew I had one more (Wimbledon title) left in me," Navratilova said. "Not too many people believed me.

"The doubts are always there. You just have to overcome them and believe you have another chance.

"I didn't have to play Steffi, yes, and maybe I would never have as good a chance. I knew I had to grasp it. It was my match to win. I wasn't afraid to grasp it."

Graf or no Graf, there will be no asterisk next to Navratilova's name in the record books. If there is one notable improvement in Navratilova's game, it is the way King prepared her mentally.

"She worked on my game, but more important is what she did with me mentally," Navratilova said. "I didn't let it overwhelm me."

Said King: "It's a dream, it's a dream."

It was real. Navratilova's date with history did not begin so auspiciously: After showering, she put mousse in her hair before combing it.

But there she was anyway, holding up that plate, raising three fingers three times.

Why? Navratilova's ninth Wimbledon title brought her Wimbledon match record to 99-9.

"Everything is coming up nines," Navratilova said.

For her, on this Saturday, nine was a 10.

NAVRATILOVA'S CHAMPIONSHIPS

Year Opponent Score 1990 Zina Garrison 6-4, 6-1 1987 Steffi Graf 7-5, 6-3 1986 Hana Mandlikova 7-6, 6-3 1985 Chris Evert 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 1984 Chris Evert 7-6, 6-2 1983 Andrea Jaeger 6-0, 6-3 1982 Chris Evert 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 1979 Chris Evert 6-4, 6-4 1978 Chris Evert 2-6, 6-4, 7-5

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