TENNIS : No way forward for Navratilova

JOHN ROBERTS reports from Eastbourne
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The Independent Online
Such is the poverty of the draw at the Direct Line Insurance Championships here that Martina Navratilova was tempted to suspend her retirement for a week and play singles as well as doubles. She decided against it to avert too much media attention, "as well as not having those knots in my stomach again as I go out to play."

Denied the presence of a major star in the singles - the Japanese, Kimiko Date, is the only competitor from the top 10 - the spectators enjoyed the matches on a pleasant, sunny day, but only became excited when Navratilova made her first appearance in Devonshire Park's new pounds 2.5m stadium.

Her participation was short- lived. Navratilova and her American compatriot, Lisa Raymond, who has hardly played for three months because of injury, were defeated by the Australians, Nicole Bradtke and Kristine Radford, 7-6, 6-3.

Navratilova was disappointed not to have more match practice before playing doubles with Steffi Graf at Wimbledon. She is also seeking a partner for the mixed doubles, John McEnroe being too busy with television commitments.

In common with Navratilova, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the world No 2, and Jana Novotna also entered the doubles here, which is useful practice for Wimbledon. But, then, they have not retired from the WTA Tour.

The difficulty in attracting leading players is symptomatic of the current state of the women's game, though Navratilova, president of the WTA Tour Players' Association, was not impressed when told of Pat Cash's latest estimation - "Crap" - on Monday's Sport in Question on ITV.

"He doesn't mince his words," she said, "but it goes in peaks and valleys, and right now we're trying to get out of a valley. I'd like to see some positive attitudes about the game rather than trashing it."

The nine-times Wimbledon champion added that it did not help to have two big names out of the game - Monica Seles and Jennifer Capriati. Navratilova is ready to play a part in Seles's rehabilitation as her opponent in an exhibition match, probably in Atlantic City, on 29 July.

Having defeated Mary Pierce, the world No 4, on clay in an exhibition match in Prague last week, Navratilova is looking forward to discover "how Steffi works on the court, mentally". She will have no hesitation in making her partner work: "It will be nice to say, `Yours', because I know she'll get there."

While Date and Natasha Zvereva continued to advance towards a projected meeting in Saturday's final here, seeds No 4 (Helena Sukova), No 5 (Gigi Fernandez), and No 6 (Raymond) were eliminated in the third round.

Sukova, who defeated Navratilova to win the title in 1987, was beaten by the 10th-seeded Lori McNeil, 7-5, 6-3. This was not such a surprise bearing in mind McNeil's victory against Steffi Graf in the first round at Wimbledon last year.

Fernandez, who lost to Navratilova in Wimbledon semi-finals last year, was defeated by an American compatriot, Chanda Rubin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1. Rubin, the No 13 seed, will play Date in the quarter-finals. The top seed eliminated the unseeded Pam Shriver, 7-5, 6-2.