Navratilova puts off retirement Feeling better about game, she shows Arena fans why

November 25, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

All of a sudden, some of the world's top women's tennis players are beginning to speak of Martina Navratilova in ghost-like terms, as if she isn't here anymore.

And Navratilova may have encouraged that sort of talk with her public musings that next year might be her last on the singles tour.

But Navratilova put the brakes on retirement talk last night, or at least slowed it, allowing that maybe she's not quite ready for rocking chairs, gold watches and the other rewards of retirement.

"I really don't want to drag this [retirement] out. I think I'd rather forgo the gifts, the keys to the city and all that and just play," Navratilova said.

After dropping the Virginia Slims Championships to Monica Seles in New York Sunday, Navratilova told a Madison Square Garden audience that she would probably retire from singles competition after next year's tour.

But, with a day or so to think about it, Navratilova said reports of her departure might be greatly exaggerated.

"I don't know that next year will be my last year. I really haven't made [up] my mind. That is how I felt a month ago, but I have been feeling better about my play lately, so we'll see," said Navratilova, 36.

Navratilova joined Gabriela Sabatini, Mary Joe Fernandez and Pam Shriver last night in the First National Bank Tennis Festival at the Arena, which was organized by Shriver, Navratilova's longtime friend and former doubles partner.

Shriver won the first set against Fernandez, 7-6, aftertrailing 4-1 in the set and forcing a tiebreaker, which she won, 7-2.

Navratilova was commanding, beating Sabatini, 6-4, and crushing Fernandez, 6-1. Sabatini gained a measure of respect beating Shriver, 6-1.

In the doubles match, Navratilova and Shriver won, 4-2.

The evening's format, a mini-Davis Cup arrangement with four sets of singles and one set of doubles, combined with the camaraderie of the players created a spirit of friendly competition.

Shriver and Navratilova were equally playful with each other, their opponents and the crowd doing their share of mugging and teasing spectators and ball boys alike.

"Often, you're sharing the same dressing room, winners and losers, and you see each other at your most vulnerable," said Navratilova. "You sort of learn to be civil to one another and sometimes friendships sprout out of it."

That spirit has clearly developed between Navratilova and Shriver, who left former doubles partner Betty Stove to join the Czech native in October 1980.

"There are several decisions in life that take very little time to decide and this was one of them," said Shriver.

The pair went on to win a remarkable 109 straight matches over two years, and 79 titles overall, including 20 Grand Slam titles and three Grand Slams.

To a lesser degree friendship has developed, between Fernandez and Sabatini, who each have homes in the Miami area.

Fernandez talked Sabatini, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Jennifer Capriati into a charity exhibition Monday night in Miami which raised $240,000 to help victims of Hurricane Andrew.

Shriver said last night's festival was expected to raise between $180,000 and $190,000, slightly down from last year's $220,000.

Still, the Lutherville native called the night a success since the Baltimore Community Foundation, the exhibition's beneficiary, would be able to fund more groups under its umbrella than last year.

The event was sponsored by the Baltimore Sun.

The evening's attention, however, was focused on Navratilova's departure, whenever that might come.

Navratilova has earned more than $18 million in prize winnings, a women's record, and has won 18 Grand Slam singles titles, nine Wimbledon singles titles and 161 singles crowns overall.

The talk of Navratilova's retirement has given younger players like Sabatini and Fernandez a chance to ponder Navratilova's longevity and record.

"It's hard to stay up there for a long time and she's done it," said Sabatini, currently ranked third in the world. "I don't know if today's women's tennis is like it used to be and that they'll be playing for as long as she has."

Sabatini continued, "I know that I don't feel like playing too many years. It's been very tough. I'm 22, but I feel very old."

Fernandez said, "Everybody will look at each time period, but she could be seen as the greatest player. She's been a huge influence. She was the first player to dedicate herself to staying fit. We'd have to get that edge from the beginning to be at the top and be as dedicated as Martina. It will be very difficult."

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