Martina running out of time as double chance eludes her

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The Independent Online

Asked last night about her intentions of returning to SW19 in 12 months' time, Navratilova would only say: "I don't know, I don't know." It had, she admitted, been a "gruelling" day. Earlier she had looked forlorn in losing a women's doubles semi-final partnered by the 20-year-old German, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, who is not of sufficient quality to help her through against opponents as powerful as Amèlie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova, two of the top six women in the world.

Navratilova understandably appeared much more confident in her mixed partner, the experienced Bryan, who was also determined to avenge an earlier disappointment - in his case the savage one of losing the men's final with his twin brother Bob to the qualifiers Wesley Moodie of South Africa, and Stephen Huss of Australia.

At 48, the grande dame of tennis is well aware that time waits for no woman. But she was spritely enough in her second match, back on court after a 90 minute break, easing herself in with a fierce smash in the first game and a vintage return past Ullyett in the second. Huber, the 28-year-old South African, looked the weak link of the four and hers was the only service broken in a first set lasting just over half an hour. At one stage Navratilova delighted the Court One crowd with three great returns in succession at the net.

The second set was less predictable, with everyone except Bryan dropping serve in the first four games and Navratilova and her partner then being broken again to concede 6-4. In the third, when the pair might have been expected to tire, they broke through twice on the Huber serve, before twice being pegged back. Huber, needing treatment and strapping on a thigh, held her serve to love when the pressure was on at 7-7 and Ullyett successfully attacked the Navratilova serve to win the match 3-6 6-4 9-7.

In the women's match, Martina's frustration at the passing of the years was often painful to behold as she was broken three times in four service games midway through the proceedings. Her competitive spirit remains undiminished, as one (male) line judge discovered to his cost when twice seeing balls in that looked well out. The umpire received a few words for a particularly late call, and a shriek of "what a bounce!" greeted the loss of another crucial point.

That was at 2-5 in the second set, when defeat was looming. With the backing of a strongly supportive Court Two crowd, this odd couple delayed the apparently inevitable, forcing the Russian Kuznetsova to drop her serve for the first time, Navratilova then holding hers before the defeated singles semi-finallist Mauresmo served out for 6-4.

So having quickly polished off the Muscovites Elena Likhovtseva and Vera Zvonareva for lunch, the (oddly) unseeded pair had devoured Groenefeld and Navratilova 6-4 6-4 in just over an hour, committing only one unforced error in the whole of the first set. In the final at noon today they will meet Cara Black and Huber.

Ullyett and the busy Huber - assuming her thigh holds up - ought to win a semi-final against the unseeded Paul Hanley and Tatiana Perebiynis but would be tested in the final by either Jonas Bjorkman and Lisa Raymond, the highest remaining seeds, or Mahesh Bhupathi and the other beaten singles semi-finallist, Mary Pierce.

As for Martina, she was insisting a year ago she would not be back, so any announcements along similar lines this time should perhaps be treated cautiously. She will certainly continue to be an influential commentator on the sport, causing a stir yesterday by insisting that there was doping going on in the sport that was not being punished and that "screaming" by players of both sexes should be banned. Yesterday the only such shrieks were directed at herself.