Navratilova to begin doubles tour in Madrid

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The Independent Online

Martina Navratilova will end her 5 1/2-year retirement when she plays doubles at the Madrid Open in Spain with partner Mariaan de Swardt of South Africa.

The tournament will be a first step in her belated bid for a record-tying 20th Wimbledon title.

The 43-year-old tennis great previously announced she would play at the All-England Club and at Eastbourne, a Wimbledon tuneup event. She and de Swardt also will play the French Open.

The appearance in Madrid comes less than two months before Navratilova is inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

"I'm sure Wimbledon will be the last one," Linda Dozoretz, Navratilova's spokeswoman, said today, adding: "But if she wins ..."

The $170,000 Madrid Open will be played on red clay May 22-28. The tournament comes a week before the French Open, the year's second Grand Slam tournament, also on red clay.

De Swardt said last week the two would play the doubles at the French Open.

"I'm really excited playing with Martina at Roland Garros and at the other events," de Swardt said. "In my mind, she is the greatest athlete. I know that I can still learn a lot from her and I know for sure that she is still playing great tennis. She is in better shape than 70 percent of the women on tour, including myself."

Navratilova and de Swardt have never played on the WTA Tour together, but combined last year when they were teammates in World TeamTennis.

Navratilova won seven women's doubles titles at Roland Garros, including five in a row from 1984 to 1988 with Pam Shriver. She has not played the French Open since 1994.

Navratilova has won 19 titles at Wimbledon, one shy of the record set in 1979 by Billie Jean King. Navratilova was King's partner then. Of Navratilova's 19 Wimbledon titles, seven were in doubles.