Advertisement

TENNIS NOTEBOOK : Fans Hit Navratilova Right on the Button

TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was a simple little button worn by a few fans Sunday at the final of the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles tennis tournament. Yet its message seemed to transcend its literal meaning and instead epitomize the warmth felt by the tennis community for Martina Navratilova in general.

“Martina is my role model,” the button read. Black letters on a neon pink background. The message meant a lot to Navratilova, whose personal choices have often been the subject of controversy throughout her tennis career.

A fan, disturbed by Margaret Court’s recent comments that Navratilova’s homosexuality is not a good role model for tennis, made up 15 of the buttons and brought them to the tournament. When the fan handed one of the buttons to Navratilova a few days ago, she said Martina took it, but didn’t say anything.

“I think it really touched her,” said Judy Nelson, Navratilova’s close friend who wore the button for three days at the tournament. “The support she has gotten from the entire situation has really warmed her heart. Maybe it (support) has been out there all along, but now she knows it.”

Advertisement

The crowd of 5,965 at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach for the final between Navratilova and Monica Seles certainly cheered their support. Navratilova lost to Seles, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6), but the crowd’s applause rang equally as loud for the veteran as for the young star.

“I saw Martina in the clubhouse a couple of weeks ago, and I told her we would be cheering for her at this tournament,” said Joyce Greenleaf, a member of Manhattan Country Club. “She said, ‘Yes, all the oldies (will cheer),’ and I said ‘No, a lot of youngies will be cheering, too.’ ”

Sunday’s final did appear to be somewhat of a battle for all ages, not just a battle of age. Navratilova, at 33, is more than twice as old as the 16-year-old Seles. Yet Navratilova says she is in peak physical condition. She said her right knee, which had bothered her Saturday, was fine Sunday.

“The body held up really well,” Navratilova said. “I felt better at the end of the match than at the beginning and that is a tribute to my fitness. I know I can come through.”

Advertisement

Navratilova played in two matches Saturday--a three-set semifinal against Zina Garrison immediately followed by a three-set doubles match, which she and Garrison lost to Jana Novotna and Gigi Fernandez, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

“Martina put in a heroic effort today,” Nelson said. “The older she gets, the harder it is for her, not physically, but emotionally.

“If she gets a day off in between matches, then it helps her recharge emotionally. But there’s just not enough time at this age to recover without a day off. That’s why she got off to a slow start today.”

Afterward, Navratilova, counted this match as one of her best.

Advertisement

“Even though I lost, it was one of the greatest matches I have ever been a part of, and I have played in about 1,500 of them,” she said.

Gigi Fernandez and Jana Novotna defeated Mercedes Paz and Gabriela Sabatini in the doubles final, 6-3, 7-5. Hana Mandlikova, who coaches Fernandez and Novotna, was given a warning in Saturday’s semifinal match for coaching during the match. Mandlikova said she did not want to talk about it, because it wasn’t “positive.”

Mandlikova, who was mentioned as a possible doubles partner for Novotna at the U.S. Open, dispelled the notion. “What? In the 52 and over (age) group?” she said.


Advertisement
Advertisement