Navratilova still rewriting all the record books

Martina Navratilova, aged 47 years, eight months and three days, yesterday won the 120th singles match of her 31-year Wimbledon career, and her 303rd match in total.

Martina Navratilova, aged 47 years, eight months and three days, yesterday won the 120th singles match of her 31-year Wimbledon career, and her 303rd match in total.

That's a lot of statistics for one sentence, but with Navratilova, winner of 167 singles titles, statistics are hard to avoid. While she was on Court Two storming to a 6-0, 6-1 victory over the hapless 24-year-old Colombian, Catalina Castano, the Englishwoman, Amanda Janes, was losing her match against Ai Sugiyama, of Japan. And the significance of that? Navratilova's first opponent back in 1973 was Amanda Janes' mother, the 1961 runner-up Christine Truman-Janes, whom the Czech ingénue despatched 6-1, 6-4. Indeed, it should surprise nobody if Navratilova is still playing at Wimbledon when Amanda's daughter, Christine's grand-daughter, makes her debut. Keeping up with the Janeses, so to speak.

Satisfying as it was to see Navratilova winning so easily yesterday, in her first appearance in the singles event since 1994, it was hard not to feel sorry for her opponent. The Colombian prefers clay, and here she was against the supreme grass-court specialist, nine-times Wimbledon champion. No matter that the first of those titles was secured in 1979, before Castano was born. She must have felt as though she had been run over by a vintage steamroller.

Castano did not, in truth, offer much resistance, winning only nine points in a rain-interrupted first set. But if Navratilova had hoped for a sweatier workout, she only had herself to blame. She served accurately, volleyed neatly, dropped subtly, and one could say that she glided about the court like a woman half her age were it not for the fact that Castano is half her age, give or take a few months, and did not glide nearly so impressively.

Navratilova, in short, is a phenomenon. If there is the slightest evidence of her 47 years it is in the form of some dimples of cellulite in the ever-muscular legs, but it would be dangerous as well as unchivalrous to bring this up.

Her demeanour in the post-match press conference was, shall we say, spiky. Especially when references were made to her age. On being informed that she was the oldest player to have won a singles match at Wimbledon in the Open era (the oldest of all time was Madeleine O'Neill in 1922, aged 54), she said sardonically: "Well, that's what I live for, you know, breaking all kinds of records. Not! I've told you before, my only ambition was to be the youngest."

Her weapons these days are psychological as much as physical. She has said she is only competing in the singles to sharpen up her play for the doubles, perhaps giving Castano the impression that she was there merely as practice fodder.

The rain break came at 5-0 in the first set - one wonders, incidentally, how many times over the years Navratilova has heard the words "ladies and gentlemen, play is suspended" ringing out over the venerable lawns - but there was no suggestion that the interruption had put her off her stride or enabled Castano to settle into hers. Navratilova broke serve immediately on resumption, to wrap up the first set, and by the time Castano was 3-0 down in the second set, she started looking towards her coach for inspiration. Gamely, he tried to encourage her, crying " vamos", Spanish for "let's go!" Let's go home might have been more appropriate.

Still, the Colombian at least took home the consolation of a single game, successfully serving, at 5-0 down, to stay in the match. She then saved no fewer than four match points, but only as a postponement of the inevitable.

The business was concluded in 46 minutes and when it was over, Navratilova's coach, Michael de Jongh, took a photograph of the scoreboard. After all, it might be the last singles match she wins at Wimbledon; not that anyone's betting against a 121st.

Afterwards, Navratilova was asked about the first one, against Christine Truman-Janes. She said she remembered it vividly, largely because her dress was too tight.

"I got a dress from Fred Perry at the French Open," she recalled. "Fred Perry gave us some gear. Coming from Czechoslovakia, that was amazing. I was happy to get anything I could play tennis in [but] I was a bit chubby, as you know. And the dress was not the right size."

She had not, however, been nervous. "They keep saying how it's amazing when the youngsters handle the pressure; Wayne Rooney, oh it's amazing how he handles the pressure. Whoever's on Centre Court. You're just so excited to be there, there's no pressure. My first Wimbledon, there was no pressure. The older you get, the worse it gets. I was much more nervous today than I was for that first one."

Tell that to Catalina Castano.

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