Dear Martina Navratilova: It'll take more than one first-round defeat and a smashed racket to end your astonishing career, a women's sportswriter tells the tennis champ
Like Billy Jean King, I was chomping my fingernails all through that gruelling duel in the sun, which you went into aware that the odds were stacked against you. Don't listen to the carpers who know nothing about tennis. Grass is your best surface, not this burnt red clay. That is one reason why Billy Jean and Craig Kardon, your coach, didn't want you to play at all in Paris. But this is your last season in Grand Slam tennis singles, and you wanted to say goodbye properly.
You had the grace to run to shake hands with the victor, Miriam Oremans, before you broke the racket. Your anger was not at the 21-year-old kid who was playing so well, but at time, which has stolen some of the speed from your movements.
Don't feel so bad, Martina. As Pam Shriver told me yesterday, you're still as fast as most of the other women in the top 10. And at 37 you are fitter than most. That kid was red in the face with exertion. Not you. If the match had gone to three sets I think you would have won it. It's the first time you have lost in the first round since 1976 in any Grand Slam tournament. But as you said at the press conference, 'Oh, well it's a pretty good record.' Exactly.
One of your greatest victories was here in Paris in 1984. It was on clay, against Chris Evert and she was really at the top of her game. That was one of the finest matches you've ever played. In fact, it was one of the finest women's matches ever played.
The first time I talked to you years ago, I noticed that your eyes rarely blink. That's because you are so focused. Don't be distracted now by the voices clamouring at you to give in gracefully. Over the years, what has really impressed us is your iron will. After losing in the singles this week, a lesser competitor would have pulled out of the doubles here in Paris to start preparing immediately for Eastbourne and Wimbledon. Maybe this time they'll put you on centre court, where you belong.
Your eyes were puffy with tears and your voice shook when you said after the match, 'For one brief moment I thought that I should just quit right now and not have to worry about getting ready for another match, but that lasted for about one quarter of a second.'
Thank goodness for that.
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