Paris ready for Martina's third coming
May 20, 2004
PARIS — Two-and-a-half years short of her 50th birthday, Martina
Navratilova makes the second French Open singles comeback of her
career next week with her appearance splitting opinion just as she
has done since she made her debut here in 1973.
Photo - AFP
The holder of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, two of them on the
clay of Roland Garros in 1982 and 1984, she was awarded a wildcard
into the first round here by organisers sorely conscious of a WTA
Tour which, outside of its top six, lacks serious pulling power.
"Martina wants to celebrate the 20th anniversary of her last
French Open win," said tournament manager Stephane Simian.
But not everyone is pleased with the veteran's return.
"It's good for her. I just hope that they didn't just decide to
give it to Martina and shunned some youngsters away," said
Navratilova's fellow American Jennifer Capriati.
"She's a great champion, but you have to make way for the
players coming through. But I'm sure they took that into
Aware of the strong emotions surrounding her return, Navratilova
is keen to keep a low profile until her date on court next week.
She is stressing she doesn't want to take the limelight away
from the other 127 players in the first round draw, most of whom
weren't born when she was a quarter-finalist as a 16-year-old on
debut in 1973.
Navratilova, with a record 167 singles titles to her name,
insists one of the reasons for wanting to play in Paris is to
improve her doubles game.
"Just practicing for the singles helps my doubles," she said.
"So that's the idea behind it, I just wanted to get more match play
and this is one way to do it."
Doubles occupies most of her time on tour partnering Leander
Paes to the mixed doubles title at the Australian Open and
Wimbledon last year.
She is also under pressure to play singles at Wimbledon where
she last played, and finished runner-up, in 1994.
"A lot of people are pushing me to play Wimbledon," Navratilova
said. "I would play if it wasn't going to be a big deal.
"Chances are I will not be playing Wimbledon but chances are I
will be playing at Eastbourne."
It was at the English south coast venue where she made an
earlier singles comeback in 2002 where, having lost a bet with her
trainer, she entered the tournament, defeated world number 22
Tatiana Panova and became the oldest woman ever to win a tour
She even fightened the life out of then world number three
Daniela Hantuchova before succumbing in three sets.
Navratilova has already played singles twice this year losing
first round matches in Amelia Island and Charleston to Milagros
Sequera and Amy Frazier respectively.
Furthermore, making comebacks in Paris is familiar territory for
After finishing runner-up in 1988, she skipped the French Open
until a one-off return in 1994 led to a first round exit at the
hands of Miriam Oremans.
Fellow American Serena Williams, for one, is looking forward to
the legend's reappearance.
"It's great for her, amazing," said the six-time Grand Slam
winner. "If I'm still playing at that age, it would be
unbelievable." – Sapa-AFP
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