Tennis: Navratilova serves up another encore: Julie Welch watches the imperious progress of a veteran relishing her farewell tour

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The Independent Online
SO, it's not farewell then, Martina, not yet. Linda Harvey-Wild might have won their only other encounter, but that was Eastbourne 1992. This was Centre Court now. Navratilova, nine times champion, swept past her 6-3 6-2. She couldn't have lost: the Duchess of Kent wasn't there; it wouldn't have been right.

It has been a long time since Navratilova arrived at Wimbledon as a frumpy Czech teenager. Since then there have been several changes of hair colour, numerous racy tabloid headlines and a switch of nationalities. It would be nice to say she doesn't look a day older, but of course she does. The knees have gone a bit and she's given up chasing those passing shots that 10 years ago she would have had for breakfast, but her heart and her will are nearly as strong as ever.

In any case, Harvey-Wild made enough mistakes to cancel out the advantage of younger legs and lungs. With one leg encased in an elastic support bandage from knee to thigh, she actually looked the more crocked of the two, and once Navratilova broke her to lead

5-3 in the first set to cheers and whoops, the 23-year old American was toast. The second set swung Navratilova's way and at 5-2 she was serving for the match at 40-15. There were more cheers, screams, a brisk 'quiet please' from the umpire then boom, that was it. Standing ovation, to be continued

tomorrow.

From former champion to champion in waiting? Maybe. It's hard to say on yesterday's evidence just how much further Jana Novotna is going to go in this tournament. When she's good she's amazing, all murderous first serves, pinging volleys, beefy baseline shots and fabulous gets. When she's bad, she would struggle to beat a broken Anglepoise lamp. As usual, she gave us a combination of both: 6-0 4-6 6-0; The scoreline from her match against Dominique Monami says it all.

Monami, brown, ear-ringed and Belgian is ranked 75th in the world, to Novotna's fifth. They've met at Wimbledon before, in 1992 when Novotna sent her packing in the first round. This year Monami has left the Australian and French Opens equally early. On the face of it, then, it should have been one of this fortnight's briefest encounters, instead it took three sets, more than two hours, and one of the longest wrangles at deuce. You can only hope Novotna's supporters have steady nerves and constitutions of steel. Anyone due to watch her this week might consider packing a hip-flask of brandy, to ease the pain during those sessions in the middle of matches when Novotna gets whatever the tennis equivalent is of brewer's droop.

It must be said that Novotna has been having problems with her right upper arm. She crashed out of the French Open in the first round and has been resting and having physiotherapy ever since, so she was entitled to look a bit rusty. In fact, though, she breezed through the first set in half an hour, not serving all that comfortably but well on top.

It was in the second set that Novotna underwent that dramatic loss of vitality and focus that so often seems to bedevil her. Remember last year's final when she seemed to have it all sewn up in the final set against Graf and still couldn't get her hands on that silver salver. Remember how she cried buckets over the Duchess of Kent's best frock.

Monami broke her serve in the opening game of the second set, hung on to her own in the next game for the first time and then had to do little except watch Novotna fall apart. She was four games up before Novotna got her foot back in the door, and still 5-2 in front when that incredibly long game stuck at deuce.

Advantage went this way and that so many times that the umpire must have worn his pencil blunt. Novotna won it, then went to pieces for the rest of the set. Astonishingly, though, she coolly took the deciding set to love as if none of the other stuff had happened.

Her next opponent will be Naoko Sawamatsu, who put up a solid performance of baseline scurrying at the graveyard, otherwise known as Court 14, to knock out Mary Joe Fernandez, the 11th seed.

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