Backlog hits Navratilova title hopes

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The Independent Online

Supertramp's hit single "It's Raining Again" could easily be the anthem of Wimbledon 2004, and all the rain breaks have brought back the reality of three matches in a day for the 47-year-old Martina Navratilova.

With intermittent showers wreaking havoc with yesterday's schedule at the All England Club, Navratilova faced the prospect of two mixed doubles matches and a women's doubles in the space of a few hours in her quest for a record 21st - or even 22nd - Wimbledon title. She shares the record of 20 titles with her former mentor, Billie Jean King.

The congestion has been exacerbated by the failure of Navratilova and her mixed doubles partner, Leander Paes, to convert two match points in an enthralling third-round match on Thursday night. Taking to Court 13 at just gone six o'clock against the Zimbabwe brother-and-sister pairing of Cara and Wayne Black, play was finally called to a halt at 9.10pm with the final set level at 10-10.

Navratilova and Paes, the defending champions, had two match points on the Wayne Black serve at 4-5, one of them a long and dramatic rally ending with Navratilova hitting a volley just wide. They also had a blazing row with the umpire Jeremy Shales in the next game after he refused to accept a line judge's wish to correct his call.

But Navratilova's biggest fury will be reserved for the lack of a conclusion to the match, which could hamper her chances of a record-breaking title in her final Wimbledon - she insists this is her last time, though we have heard that before.

Because of a convention which says players coming off court late at night should not normally be asked to complete an unfinished match at the start of the following day's play, yesterday's programme had her women's doubles semi-final as second on Court One. She and Lisa Raymond, the No 3 seeds, were due to face the fifth-seeded Liezel Huber and Ai Sugiyama. Navratilova was then due back on Court No 13 for the conclusion of her mixed doubles match, and if she and Paes won that, they were scheduled to face Rainer Schüttler and Barbara Schett in the quarter-finals.

Though Navratilova is the star attraction in the women's doubles, the top-seeded pair of Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suarez are looking to make their own piece of history. They hold the US, Australian and French Open titles, and if they add this year's Wimbledon title, they will become the first pair to hold all four majors since Navratilova and Pam Shriver won their third pure Grand Slam in 1987. Ruano Pascual and Suarez were due to play their semi-final against Cara Black and Rennae Stubbs yesterday after the first of the two men's semi-finals between Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, and Julian Knowle and Nenad Zimonjic. The winner will play either Jonas Björkman and Todd Woodbridge, or an all-Australian pairing, Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley.