MARTINA NAVRATILOVA, probably the most dominant woman or man on a tennis court in the open era, retired this week. For a tribute to her, Tennis magazine asked for comments from four experts, including ex-Baltimorean Frank Deford, contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine, and Pam Shriver of Lutherville, the tennis professional. Here are excerpts from their articles:
Shriver: "The October day in 1980 when Martina called and asked me to be her doubles partner was one of the most fortunate days any tennis player ever enjoyed. Martina and Billie Jean King had beaten Betty Stove and me in the U.S. Open final that year. Martina liked the fact that I was a youngster who played serve-and-volley tennis, and she could tell that I enjoyed playing doubles and that I had fun on the court.
"Even the greatest of partnerships usually goes stale after three or four years, but Martina and I enjoyed 8 1/2 years of uninterrupted success. During that span we won 20 Grand Slam titles and a total of 79 tournaments. We also won the Grand Slam once . . .
"My most memorable moment from our doubles years was the day in 1981 when we won our first Grand Slam title. It was at Wimbledon on July 4, my 19th birthday, and we were playing Kathy Jordan and Anne Smith in the final. We won the first set 6-3 and I was serving at 6-5 in the second set tie-break. I got my first serve in and then put away the volley to win the match.
"I feel fortunate to have spent so many years on the right side of the doubles court with Martina. Neither of us ever had the same kind of success before or after."
DeFord: "Above all, how gratifying it must have been for her. To have achieved so much, triumphed so magnificently, yet always to have been the other, the odd one, alone; left-hander in a right-handed universe, gay in a straight world; defector, immigrant; the (last?) gallant volleyer among all those duplicate baseline bytes. When she came into the game, she was the European among Americans; she leaves as the American among Europeans -- and the only grown-up left in the tennis crib. Can't she ever get it right?
"Yet, surely, that inherent uniqueness in her was the very foundation of her construct, what raised Martina Navratilova from a mere champion to a heroic figure. . .
"Even as I can visualize her now (the favorite in my mind's eye is her running forehand, flat out, where the racquet ends clutched high, a southpaw sword), I will always hear Martina clearest. Through all her transformations -- of body, hair, clothes, glasses, nationalities, coaches, lovers -- the one thing, ever the same, ever distinct, is her voice, which is pitched to shatter a champagne flute. . . It is Martina's voice I always hear. It brought forth sounds of decency and forthrightness, leavened with wit and compassion. Tennis was blessed to have such a voice for so long, for these times."