Tennis: Navratilova falls at final indoor hurdle: Sukova surprises herself with a return to her finest form and a victory over an old foe

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HOPES of a 168th career title for Martina Navratilova were dashed yesterday by unseeded Helena Sukova, of the Czech Republic, in the quarter- finals of the women's European Indoor Championship.

Sukova, for five years a top- 10 player but now ranked a lowly 41st, beat the Czech- born American No 1 seed 7-5, 3-6, 6-4.

Navratilova, who will be 38 later this month and plans to retire at the end of the year, was never at ease against the lanky Sukova, nine years her junior and, at 6ft 3in, one of the tallest players on the women's circuit.

'She hit the winners. She played very well. I played the best I could but lost. I kept trying but she was better on the big points. And I made a lot of unforced errors,' Navratilova, ranked fourth in the world, said. 'I am naturally very disappointed. This was one I wanted so much to win on my last visit.'

With the world No 1, Steffi Graf of Germany, absent because of injury, this tournament was deemed to be the easiest for Navratilova to win before her final bow. Sukova, who fell out of the top 10 in 1989, said: 'This win is a great boost for my morale. I have been playing well in the first two rounds and was very confident but I surprised even myself by some points that I won.'