Monday, June 21, 2004
After warm welcome, Navratilova takes charge
ESPN.com news services
WIMBLEDON, England -- It was just like old times for former Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova.
Nine-time champion Navratilova returned to the All England Club for
her first singles match in 10 years Monday -- and looked as if she's
never been away.
Serving and volleying in classic grass-court style, the
47-year-old Navratilova crushed Colombia's Catalina Castano 6-0,
6-1 in 46 minutes in a rain-interrupted early match on the opening
day of the 118th edition of the Grand Slam tournament.
"It's great to be out there, great to have that opportunity,"
Navratilova said. "When people say, 'Why are you doing it?' I
guess the answer is, because I still can, bottom line."
Navratilova is the oldest woman to win a singles match at
Wimbledon since Britain's Madeline O'Neill reached the third round
in 1922 at the age of 54.
Navratilova's victory was a big turnaround from her singles
appearance last month at the French Open, where she lost in
straight sets in the first round to Gisela Dulko of Argentina.
Dulko beat Jelena Dokic 6-3, 6-3 on Monday to set up a rematch with
Navratilova in the second round.
Turning to critics who thought she couldn't be competitive
again, Navratilova said, "You guys didn't believe me. Now do you believe me?"
Navratilova also had pointed words for those who questioned
whether she deserves to be granted wild cards at the expense of
"Are they still saying it?" she said. "I don't think so."
Granted a wild card entry last week, Navratilova was back
on her favorite grass surface at the club where she made
her debut 31 years ago. Winner of six straight titles from 1982-87,
she hadn't played singles at Wimbledon since losing in the 1994
final to Conchita Martinez.
After receiving a warm ovation from the crowd on Court 2, known
as the "graveyard of champions," Navratilova took charge
immediately. She played a style rarely seen in tennis these days:
She served and volleyed from the first point, she chipped and
charged on the returns, she hit for angles rather than power.
Castano, ranked No. 102 and playing only her second match at the
All England Club, looked tight facing a Wimbledon legend and put up
little resistance until late in the match.
"It's almost like playing my mom," said Castano, who is 24 and whose mother is 50.
Navratilova was up 5-0 after just 16 minutes when the match was
stopped for 40 minutes by rain. There were several other rain
delays during the afternoon, with more bad weather forecast this
After the delay, Navratilova picked up where she left
off, breaking for the first set and racing to a 5-0 lead in the
second. Castano finally picked up her game, breaking for 5-1 and
forcing a break point in the next game. It took Navratilova five
match points before she finally closed out the contest.
"It's nice when the biggest applause is when my opponent wins
one game," she said. "I just let up a little bit. It's nice to be
pushed a little bit at the end. You can only play as well as your
Navratilova flashed a big smile and lifted her racket in the air
as she sat on her chair, then stood up and applauded the crowd. She
held up a clenched fist as she left the court.
Former two-time champion Venus Williams started her bid for a third Wimbledon title with an emphatic 6-3, 6-0 victory over Marie-Gayanay Mikaelian of Switzerland.
Hitting serves at up to 122 mph, Venus had
seven aces and 26 winners. She closed the 48-minute match just
before another downpour -- doing a pirouette and waving to the crowd
as the grounds crew raced out to cover the court for the fourth
Williams dismissed the idea that Navratilova's victory over the
102nd-ranked Castano reflects poorly on the quality of play on the
"It reflects well on Martina," Williams said. "She's in
wonderful shape. She understands the game probably more than ever
at this point."
Venus' sister, two-time defending champion Serena Williams,
begins Tuesday against China's Zheng Jie. Serena, who hasn't won a
Grand Slam title in a year, could become only the third woman in
the past 35 years to win three consecutive Wimbledon championships.
Venus won the women's title in 2000 and 2001 but has been runner-up to her sister Serena in each of the last two finals.
French Open champion Anastasia
Myskina began her Wimbledon bid with a satisfying 7-5, 6-1
victory over Slovakia's Lubomira Kurhajcova.
The slender Russian, seeded second, threw away an early
advantage in the first set on Centre Court but recovered to win
before an immediate break in the second set put her en route
to a comfortable victory in the early evening sunshine.
Myskina, who reached the fourth round at Wimbledon last
year, is in line for a potential quarterfinal meeting with
compatriot Elena Dementieva, whom she beat in the French Open
final earlier this month.
Dokic cut a sorry figure Monday after she was overwhelmed 6-3, 6-3 by
Argentina's Dulko in the first round.
Dokic had arrived at the grass-court Grand Slam hoping to
snap a two-month losing streak and set up a mouthwatering
second-round showdown with Martina Navratilova.
Instead, Dulko set up a rematch with Navratilova.
Among the other women advancing Monday were No. 5 Lindsay Davenport,
No. 11 Ai Sugiyama and No. 13 Maria Sharapova.
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.