Martina Navratilova's path to her first tournament victory of the year was more a procession than a challenge. Just after she beat Sylvia Hanika, 6-1, 6-1, in the final of the Virginia Slims of Washington, someone asked if she was thinking of retiring. "Are you crazy?" she said, laughing. "I finally get it together and you want me to retire."

When an athlete is as dominating as Navratilova was this week, minds begin to wonder how much further she can go, how long the game and the grind can remain a challenge. Navratilova, 26, says she will play until at least 30, as long as she is willing to "get up every morning and practice."

She says she can improve by perhaps 20-30 percent. Chris Evert Lloyd, the U.S. Open champion, remains a challenge. In the meantime, Navratilova works at her game.

Navratilova's aura of supremacy this week was augmented by the absence of Evert, who did not enter, as well as Tracy Austin and Pam Shriver, who withdrew before play began. But when asked if she felt badly that it was so easy (losing only 10 games all week, only two on her serve), she said, "Heck, no, are you kidding?"

One by one, her victims were asked if Navratilova's domination is bad for the game. "I think it's great," said Mary Lou Piatek, who lost in the semifinals. "If I could do it, I would."

Hanika, who did not have it Monday night, was asked what it takes to beat Navratilova now. "A good passing shot, coming to the net, trying to move her around, consistency," she said.

That's because Navratilova is no longer inconsistent. Now people ask her if it is possible to go an entire year without losing a match. "It's possible, not probable," she said. "Even Superman gets headaches. Mentally, it's possible, if you really want it. Physically, you can't control getting sick. There are some things you can't avoid like toxoplasmosis I got at the Open."

Even that did not derail her. She seems at peace with her game and herself. People respond to that. And they ask the inevitable, whether staying No. 1 will be harder than getting there. She nodded and said, "You have a tendency to rest on your laurels, just warding people off. The intensity gets a little lower. If you keep working the same way you did to get there, if you're good enough, you'll remain there.

"I've been there. This time, if I don't stay No. 1, it's because someone is better, not because I let up. I'm not going to let up now."