When Guy Forget lived in Earls Court, he sometimes cycled to the Royal Albert Hall to play in the now defunct WCT World Doubles Championships. Last night, however, the French Davis Cup captain was too blurry-eyed even to think of riding a bike, but he somehow managed to defeat Pat Cash in the opening round-robin match at the Honda Challenge.
Forget did not arrive in London until 1pm yesterday after celebrating France's 3-2 triumph against Australia in Melbourne, Cash's home town, and partying on in Paris with the French president, Jacques Chirac. In fact, Forget felt so relaxed after the stress of coaxing his players through last weekend's final that he simply hit the ball and enjoyed himself. "For me, this is not work, it is pleasure," Forget said after winning a third-set "champions tie-break", 10-7, with the match level at 6-7, 7-6. "I'm here to have a good time."
John McEnroe also seemed to enjoy himself on the opening night, defeating Henri Leconte, who on Tuesday nipped over to Paris to join the French celebrations, 6-3, 6-1.
A week of homage in London to some of the great names of the sport, which began on Tuesday evening when the tennis writers fêted Boris Becker at the All England Club, continued yesterday with a memorial service for Jaroslav Drobny at St Mary's Church, Wimbledon.
A naturalised Briton, Drobny, who died in September, aged 79, was born in Czechoslovakia and became a nomad as a result of pre-war and post-war political turmoil. He first played at Wimbledon as a 16-year-old from Prague in 1938 and eventually won the men's singles title as a 32-year-old Egyptian in his third final in 1954, having represented Bohemia Moravia along the way.
This evening it will be the 45-year-old Martina Navratilova's turn to stir the memory when the nine-times Wimbledon women's singles champion plays an exhibition match against Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario at the Honda Challenge. Navratilova, like Drobny, was born in Prague and left her homeland, in her case defecting to the United States to build an extraordinary career.
By continuing to compete as an occasional doubles player on the WTA Tour, Navratilova has been able to gain practical experience of the current champions. "When I look back," she says, "one of the things I am most proud of in my career is the fact that I have played against all the great players of the last 30 years or so names like [Margaret] Court, [Billie Jean] King, [Chris] Evert, [Evonne] Goolagong, [Steffi] Graf, [Monica] Seles, the Williams sisters, and [Martina] Hingis. It gives me chills when I think a about it."
Navratilova's latest appearance in a major championship was at the United States Open in September, in partnership with Sanchez-Vicario, during which she discussed the merits of today's leading players. In Navratilova's opinion, athleticism will continue to be the chief factor separating title winners from also-rans.
"I think you'll see more players like the Williams sisters coming along," she said. "You've got the size Lindsay [Davenport], Monica, Mary Pierce but you'll get better athletes as well. They're out there. When you get that combination of size and athletic ability, the game goes to a new level."
Navratilova should know. There was a time, after she kicked the junk-food habit and became a fitness fanatic, that she totally dominated the women's game. "I was at a certain level," she agreed, "but now Venus and Serena [Williams] are as good as athletes and they're bigger. Even if I'm as fast (and they're probably faster as well), if I stretch my arm, Venus has eight inches on me. They're bigger, better, stronger, faster. If you're not a good athlete, you won't be able to compete."
So where does this leave Martina Hingis, the former world No 1 who has been overwhelmed by the power of the Williams sisters, Davenport, Jennifer Capriati and Pierce? "She's got the game," Navratilova said. "I think where she needs to improve is her serve. I think that's probably the only thing holding her back. She doesn't win any free points on her serve. If you start the rally out of hand, Hingis would win most matches. The big girls are winning too many points on their serve. She doesn't get any free points. That ultimately will hurt you."Reuse content