Yesterday, it probably would have been better for almost everyone concerned if Navratilova had been led out by the men in green blazers to face a ball-serving machine set on 'v . . . easy'. Somehow, after all this time - 22 Wimbledon appearances, nine championships - Martina Navratilova had the country behind her. Love would not be the word, but respect, at least, and a kind of affection. The crowds ambling about in overfilled casual clothes on the dry grass at Wimbledon made one thing clear: large, fierce public figures are indeed able to reposition themselves in the English imagination - even become heroes. The trick, probably, is to smile - and to seem likely to lose. Look at John Prescott.
It's taken 37-year-old Navratilova a while to reach this point, 'longer than I thought it would have' she has said. First she was a Communist waif, 'like that girl they brought over from Sarajevo' said one spectator, then she was an American businesswoman with a snazzy Aspen lifestyle and an oversized entourage. She never seemed right for full English approval, and she never fitted the cosy, first-name condescension of the television commentators - Martina. But this year it happened, in the nick of time, in time for her to disappear.
A group of four highly excited women could be heard shouting: 'She's going to do this] She's going to do this]' and ran off whooping, and singing, 'Here we go] Here we go]' past the champagne stalls. Most others were more muted: 'It's just this year,' said Ann- Marie Bell from Mansfield. 'She's just come out of herself.' She has relaxed on TV, done something with her hair. 'She's got under your skin a bit,' said Susan Bell, her sister. 'Winning - year in, year out.' Another teenage girl said: 'I'm a great fan, because my sister's called Martina.'
When he had stopped talking, the man with the gentle Christianity and angry appearance worried about what he had said. 'Don't write anything about compromise,' he said. 'I wouldn't be able to show my face in Scotland. I am intolerant.'
A Spanish woman also played yesterday, and won.
Martina's sad farewell, Sport
(Photograph omitted)Reuse content