NEW YORK -- The young Martina Navratilova doesn't play a match like this. She gets up a break and seizes the moment. She piles point on top of point and leaves an opponent gasping for air.
But Navratilova is 34 now, and her confidence is as fragile as her serve. She punches the air with a fist when things go well, but when she floats a second serve and misses a volley, she hangs her head in disgust.
Still, she remains a factor at the U.S. Open.
Yesterday, she struggled in a fourth-round match but finally defeated Manuela Maleeva-Fragniere, 7-6 (7-5), 1-6, 6-2, and reached the quarterfinals for the 13th time in 15 years. It was an important victory for Navratilova, who was eliminated by Maleeva in last year's Open.
"At this stage, this was big," said Navratilova. "I haven't beaten her for a while. The kind of game she plays, she likes a target and she passes really well, and I am playing right into her best shots. I was pretty happy with my thinking out there. The body and the mind were working together for a change."
Navratilova will have to work harder in the quarterfinals, where she'll meet No. 4 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Although NTC Sanchez Vicario has beaten Navratilova only once in eight meetings, she comes into this match on a roll, having won the Virginia Slims of Washington. Yesterday, Sanchez Vicario defeated Natalia Zvereva, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4).
"I think I have a chance to win this tournament," Navratilova said. "I don't go into a tournament hoping to get to the quarterfinals, please."
Top-seeded Steffi Graf also rolled on with a 7-5, 6-4 victory over No. 16 Judith Wiesner. The match was delayed two hours because of the Louis Armstrong Stadium epic between Jimmy Connors and Aaron Krickstein. Graf offered to play on the Grandstand Court, but tournament officials stubbornly stuck to placing the match in the stadium.
"I didn't mind," Graf said. "I thought it was great what Jimmy did."
Graf will meet No. 8 Conchita Martinez in the quarterfinals. Martinez ousted No. 12 Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-4.
"I played well up until a point," Garrison said. "I couldn't convert a lot of big points. But considering how poorly I had been playing coming into this tournament, I was very aggressive. I think I am getting better. That is what I am going to have to do to get back into the top 10 or the top 5."
But now, Garrison will have to sit and watch. The women's tournament, bogged down by a predictable string of matches, finally will take center stage today. After No. 1 Monica Seles meets Gigi Fernandez in the first quarterfinal, defending champion and No. 3 Gabriela Sabatini takes on No. 7 Jennifer Capriati in a nighttime main event.
"I'll have to press her," said Capriati, 1-6 lifetime against Sabatini. "I've got to be aggressive. It's going to be a lot of fun."