Navratilova still picture-perfect

June 26, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England -- OK, so you're Wimbledon's greatest women's singles champion of all time, and you've got a #i third-round match in the afternoon.

You plan to sleep in, arrive at Centre Court well-rested. You're sleeping soundly, when suddenly you hear a ringing in your ears.

"It was 8 o'clock this morning, and a photographer is out there ringing my doorbell, because he had orders from his boss to get a picture by noon," Martina Navratilova said yesterday, after she defeated Linda Harvey-Wild in straight sets. "It's, 'What are you doing?' Then I couldn't get back to sleep. I didn't get mad as expected, but he said, 'The boss told me to ring the doorbell at 6, but I waited until 8.'

"That's really nice. What do they think I'm going to do at 6 or 8 o'clock in the morning? Come down in my pajamas and say, 'Here, take a picture, please,' or 'Let me put on my makeup'? Forget my routine, never mind the fact I have a match. I have a photo session.

"What do these people think? Obviously, not much. But I smile. You don't want a bad picture."

Navratilova told the story with humor. She would like Wimbledon officials to solve the problem by taking away credentials from intruders, but she has been coming here for 22 years, and she knows what to expect.

There have been mornings when she's looked up from her oatmeal to see fans standing on garage roofs trying to take her picture through her kitchen window.

The first time Navratilova won the gilt plate that signifies the women's champion at Wimbledon, she was a fresh-faced 21-year-old with short, brown hair and little to say.

Since that day in 1978, she has won eight more times, and no other woman has attacked the ball with more courage or served and volleyed on grass with more flair than she has.

And now, here she is taking a final swing at singles title No. 10, and she is so focused that not even a photographer at 8 a.m. can knock her off her stride.

"I had hoped when I got to Wimbledon that Wimbledon itself would just take over, and it has," she said. "I'm really starting to relax and enjoy myself. So, I'm rising to the occasion, I think, rather than wilting from it. That's a pretty good quote, isn't it?

Rising to the occasion, instead of wilting from it. I know a joke about that."

She said she is nervous, that all aging athletes get more nervous with each passing day. But if she is truly nervous, it isn't showing.

Seeded No. 4, she opened with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Clair Taylor, followed up with a 6-2, 6-0 romp over Sandra Cecchini and then, as she said, "cruised" to a 6-3, 6-2 decision over Harvey-Wild to sweep into the Sweet 16 at the age of 37.

Her once-brown hair is strawberry blond, and the fresh face has been lined by time. The younger players on the tour no longer fear her, but one thing never changes for Navratilova.

She is here -- surrounded by her mother, father, sister and closest of friends -- to win the title.

"Quarterfinals, semifinals don't make me happy," she said. "Wins. It's wins that are great, and I'm not getting so many of those anymore. I've had enough of the bad butterflies that last so much longer before matches than they ever did before.

"I'm ready to relax, but before I go, I want to attempt to win this title a last time. I'm pretty excited about where I am, and I'm very focused on the moment."

It has been four years since Navratilova won her last Wimbledon title. Before that, she hadn't won a Grand Slam event since 1987.

In 1990 here, Navratilova was helped by the elimination of Monica Seles and Steffi Graf before the final, where she defeated Zina Garrison.

This year, she may be looking at a similar set of circumstances. Seles isn't here, and Graf, who until a month ago had dominated every match she played, was beaten in the first round.

All of which leaves an open field. But No. 2 seed Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, a 6-2, 6-1 winner yesterday over Nancy Feber, and one of last year's finalists, No. 5 Jana Novotna, who advanced with a 6-0, 4-6, 6-0 win over Dominique Monami, are standing between her and another Wimbledon final.

"But if you are asking me who do I see as the main person to beat, it is Helena Sukova," Navratilova said, pointing to the No. 17 seed, whom she faces on Court 1 tomorrow. "Always stay in the now."

The here and now. It is Navratilova's mantra, created for her by Billie Jean King, her psychological coach.

Yesterday morning, when the Navratilova household finally got up and rolling, it was King who directed her to look at the kitchen wallpaper.

"I was nervous, and Billie Jean asked me, 'What do you see on this wall?' Striped wallpaper. What colors? You know, she just got me into the now. That's all you have to do.

"Just stay with the ball, stay right now, in the now. What time is it? Now. Where are we? Here. That's the whole ballgame. You can talk all kinds of psychological babble, but that's basically the

bottom line -- stay in the moment."

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