Tennis's grand dame reached the quarter-finals while a huge and threatening obstacle in her path was removed. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the second seed who was scheduled to meet Navratilova in the semi-finals, was beaten 7-5,
4-6, 6-3 by Zina Garrison Jackson.
It was a double-barrelled contest and an upset which has emptied both charges into the form guide. Sanchez Vicario has been the favourite since Steffi Graf was sand-bagged in the first round. She arrived at the All England Club as the newly crowned French champion, but left it last night still without improving a Wimbledon record that has quarter-finals in 1989 and 1991 as its zenith.
Her defeat also means this year's final will not feature either of the top two seeds for the first time since 1980 when Evonne Cawley (No 4) defeated Chris Evert (No 3). The last time that the elite failed to fill one of the final places in any Grand Slam event was the 1981 US Open.
'I had my chances,' Sanchez Vicario said, 'but I did not take them and that allowed her to become more focused. She played better than me. That's why she beat me.'
Garrison said she had been inspired by the upsets that removed Graf and Stefan Edberg in last week's cull of the fancied runners. 'Lori (McNeil) beat the No 1 seed,' she said, 'and Bryan (Shelton) the No 2. You know we're all really good friends and there have been a number of upsets during the tournament, so I figured that this could be one as well.'
Navratilova, meanwhile, answered one question about her farewell yesterday. We do not know when the last rites will be read on her amazing career at the Championships but we do know where. She ensured her final bow will be in front of the Royal Box when she defeated Helena Sukova 6-1, 6-2. That was on Court One; it is inconceivable now she will play anywhere else but Centre Court.
Which will come as a huge relief to the Order of Play Committee. They took a gamble yesterday when they placed Navratilova away from the centre stage. A defeat for the 37-year-old who has announced she will retire at the end of the season and the scorn of the nation would have been heaped upon them. As it was she won with some aplomb.
Removed from her natural setting she may have been, but usurped she emphatically was not. Sukova has landed some hurtful blows on Navratilova in the past but yesterday she succumbed as if by public demand. Which was precisely the case, but even the most enthusiastic devotee of Martina- mania would probably have preferred a more vigorous test. Instead the match lasted just 43 minutes.
'I don't think I've handled Helena like this before,' Navratilova, who has now reached Wimbledon's last eight for 20 consecutive years, said. 'I never expected anything but a tough match. I think I've finally convinced myself I can play this game.'
She broke Sukova to 15 in the second game and then allowed her only a further four points on her serve in a first set that had the competitive element of an exhibition match. Navratilova could not have played much better; her opponent could not have been much worse.
The second set was more competitive - just, but once Navratilova had weathered two break points at 2-1 she won five games in succession. At the end she made to remove her shirt a la Andre Agassi but settled for throwing her towel to the crowd instead. Sukova had thrown in hers, metaphorically, almost as soon as she had gone on court.
There was not much resistance either from Gabriela Sabatini, whose insistence that 1994 might be her year had all the credibility of a Monster Raving Looney political broadcast after her 6-1, 6-3 demolition by Lindsey Davenport.
Davenport, the 17-year-old Californian who has assumed the mantle of America's new star-spangled banner-waver with the demise of Jennifer Capriati, breezed through the first five games and by the time her Argentinian opponent had woken up to the fact she was playing at Wimbledon and not a practice session to pepper the outside tramline the match was beyond recall.
'I felt pretty confident,' Davenport, who celebrated her victory by watching Sunset Boulevard last night, said. 'It's hard for the other person to attack and come in, or get me on the run. If I could keep her deep and hit my shots I would be OK.' By the end Sabatini was so deep you feared she would leave a permanent impression on the back canvas.
Gigi Fernandez usually leaves the deepest impression in the doubles, so it is a pleasant surprise that she is through to the quarter-finals without a partner to take a share of the credit. Yesterday she defeated Yayuk Basuki
6-4, 6-1, although the experience was a painful one.
In the second point in the second set the American, who already had her left thigh heavily bandaged, had to call for medical assistance on her right hip. Three visits by a physiotherapist later Fernandez, who by now was making a passable resemblance to the invisible man, prevailed in just over an hour.
Funnily enough Fernandez with a limp looked a more formidable proposition than when fit. 'I began to worry about aggravating the injury and forgot I was playing for a place in the last eight,' she said. 'I relaxed, became loose.'
Jana Novotna, whose tennis seems to walk a perpetually tense tightrope and who could probably never be described as anything like loose, moved closer to making amends for her dramatic collapse in last year's final against Graf. She defeated Japan's Naoko Sawamatsu 6-3, 6-3 in 1hr 35min and now faces a fairly rigorous test of her nerve - a meeting with Navratilova.
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