Navratilova ends career with 59th Grand Slam

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The Independent Online

She began by embracing a pole and finished by brushing aside two Czechs. Thirty-two years after Martina Navratilova hugged a post because she had nobody else to share in the joy of her first title, the 49-year-old won the 344th and last championship of her career at the expense of two Czech players here on Saturday night.

In partnership with Bob Bryan, Navratilova claimed her 59th Grand Slam title by winning the US Open mixed doubles final against Kveta Peschke and Martin Damm, 6-2, 6-3. It was a fitting farewell for Navratilova, who had announced her defection from Czechoslovakia at this event in 1975 and became a US citizen in 1981.

She retired in 1994 after winning 167 singles titles but returned to play doubles in 2000. She believes she is still fit enough to carry on playing for another five years. "I'm quitting because I want to, not because I have to," she said. "This is the last match. This is definite, not allegedly. This is a closed chapter. It's past midnight. It's past my bedtime."

Bryan congratulated his partner on "the best tennis career of all time." Navratilova, who was one of the first openly gay athletes, transformed herself from a podgy teenager into a symbol of supreme fitness to win 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

She recalled winning her first professional tournament, in Florida in 1974. "I didn't have anyone to hug because I didn't know anyone, so I hugged a light pole next to the umpire's chair," she said. "I won $10,000 [£5,400] and had to give it to the Czech federation."

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