Navratilova falls short but keeps eye on Wimbledon

On a day of records at the French Open here in Paris, Martina Navratilova demonstrated that she is the best 47-year-old woman tennis player in the world. But that does not mean she is good enough to win singles matches at a Grand Slam championships.

On a day of records at the French Open here in Paris, Martina Navratilova demonstrated that she is the best 47-year-old woman tennis player in the world. But that does not mean she is good enough to win singles matches at a Grand Slam championships.

Defeated, 6-1, 6-3, by the 19-year-old Gisela Dulko, of Argentina, who was not born when the great champion won the second of her two singles titles at Roland Garros, in 1984, Navratilova said she was undecided whether to ask for a wild card for the singles at Wimbledon. Emphasising that she is only playing singles to improve her doubles, Navratilova may be swayed by the fact that grass is her best surface.

Cutting remarks were made about her decision to take a wild card. Amélie Mauresmo said that were she in the place of Capucine Rousseau, the 24-year-old whose wild card went to Navratilova, she would be "totally destroyed and disappointed."

Navratilova retorted: "I think I earned it. If she won two French Opens and tried to get a wild card at the age of 47, she'll probably get it, too. If I didn't think I was one of the best 128 players, I wouldn't have asked for it."

Rousseau said last night: "I did not believe that Navratilova would have a chance on clay at her age, but I can understand that the French public wanted to see herbecause she is the image of the whole of tennis. I want to be able to go to Roland Garros without needing a wild card."

The first set was one-sided. Navratilova, 3-0 down after 10 minutes, was unable to convert two break points in the fourth game, and the set was over after 25 minutes. Four times Navratilova tossed the ball but did not go through with the serve. "Sorry," she said to Dulko. "Sorry, God bless, hold on."

After hitting a forehand wide on the concluding point as Dulko held to love in the opening game of the second set, Navratilova looked towards the heavens and said, "God Bless, America." Afterwards she admitted: "I've been saying that a long, long time in an effort not to swear. It's either 'goddamn' or 'God bless'. I opted for 'God bless'."

Navratilova did force her way in, breaking for 3-2. But she lost her serve in the next game and took a tumble trying to retrieve a shot en route to being broken for 5-3. Although Dukla double-faulted to 30-40 in the concluding game, Navratilova hit a forehand long. The match was over after 61 minutes.

In contrast, the Frenchmen Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement competed the longest match since the sport went open in 1968 ­ 6hr 33min. The match had been suspended overnight at 5-5 in the final set. Santoro prevailed yesterday, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 16-14.

The previous record was claimed by Vicky Nelson, who duelled with Jean Hepner for 6hr 31min in Richmond, Virginia, in 1984. In one rally, the ball went over the net 643 times. In the Davis Cup semi-finals in 1982, the John McEnroe defeated Mats Wilander after 6hr 22min.

Wayne Ferreira, of South Africa, yesterday supplanted Stefan Edberg of Sweden, as the man with the most consecutive appearances in Grand Slam Championships ­ 55. Not that Ferreira had much else to celebrate, losing to Jürgen Melzer, of Austria, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.

A surprise appearance was made by Juan Carlos Ferrero, of Spain, the defending champion, who on Sunday gave himself only a "40-60" chance of playing because of sore ribs. He played and won, beating Tommy Haas, of Germany, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.

Roger Federer, the Wimbledon champion, had not won a set here for two years. Yesterday he won three in a row to beat Kristof Vliegen, of Belgium, 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.

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