Three times before, the Duchess of Kent had presented Martina Navratilova with the golden challenge trophy given to the winner of the women's singles championship. Wimbledon allows its champions to hold that trophy for only a moment. The victory they keep forever.
After the semifinals, when Navratilova learned the duchess was ill and would not be able to make the presentation this year, she bought a bouquet of yellow roses for the duke to give his wife. But she forgot to write a note. Mortified, she got on her bike and rode from her rented house back to the main entrance of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, where commoners wait to see the rich and the royal. She met the duke as he was leaving, gave him the message. In an instant she was gone.
It was that kind of Wimbledon for Navratilova. The defending champion, she dashed through the competition and the tournament in less than six hours, never relinquishing a set or her self-control. Today, she beat Andrea Jaeger, the No. 3 seed, and third-ranked player, 6-0, 6-3, for her fourth title with such consummate ease that she apologized for being boring. The match took 54 minutes.
As Navratilova stood at Centre Court, basking in the sun and the warmth of fulfilled ambition, Jaeger stood by, clutching her rackets and the flowers Wimbledon had given her. "She's got the plate," Jaeger said. "I've got the flowers." Later, Navratilova and her partner, Pam Shriver, won the women's doubles title a third straight year, defeating Wendy Turnbull and Rosie Casals, 6-2, 6-2.
There was nothing Jaeger could do to inflict damage and Navratilova wasn't in a self-destructive mood. Navratilova attacked whenever possible. Although Navratilova did not serve as well as she can, Jaeger was unable to pressure her from the base line. "It's a match that has to go to the net player, unless there's some debacle," said Navratilova's coach, Mike Estep. "It's too hard to pass 48 times in a match."
No. 2 Chris Evert Lloyd and No. 5 Shriver, who might have given her a tougher go, were eliminated unexpectedly early in the tournament. Sherry Acker provided the toughest match, in the second round, forcing her to 7-6 in their first set.
Because she wins so often, and so emphatically, it is sometimes hard to evaluate how good Navratilova, 26, has become or how much better she can get. But there are points that offer a clue, like the one that ended the seventh game of the second set. Jaeger launched a good forehand return at Navratilova's feet. Ever so softly, as though it's done every day, she lifted a forehand half-volley drop shot over the net. It was a drop dead shot.
Navratilova is simply too quick, too fast, too strong, too dominant. She has all the shots and now, a base line game, too, that gives her confidence she can break if broken. She has lost only four matches in the last year and a half (to Sylvia Hanika in March 1982 at the Avon Championship, to Shriver at the U.S. Open, Evert in the final of the Australian Open, to Kathy Horvath at the French Open last month); in that time, she has won 139 matches.
This is Navratilova's dilemma: When she wins, it is considered routine; when she loses, it's considered a calamity. "Some people would give their right arm to be in that position," she said.
"I've been the favorite the last two years to win every match that I've played," she said. "If I don't live up to it, the whole world seems to come tumbling down. It's a disaster, a tragedy, like there's nothing worse that could happen in the world to you but lose a tennis match. After the French, everyone was predicting that I would come apart at the seams. If anything, it inspired me to play better, more aggressively."
Too aggressively, it appeared. Serving at 40-15 in the first game of the match, her wraparound skirt came undone for the second time in the tournament. It was her biggest problem all day. After Trey Walke stunned the tournament by wearing long white pants on Centre Court, Navratilova was asked if she had any special outfit in mind. "I said, 'I might wear a bikini.' I almost did. I felt it as I was running up to the net. It was on its way down. I was holding it in my right hand as I was hitting the forehand volley. I said, 'You better hit this because you can't run for another ball.' "
Navratilova and her skirt held. Jaeger won only nine points in the first set, which lasted 16 minutes and ended as Jaeger double-faulted twice. "It seemed too easy," Navratilova said. "I knew it would get tougher in the second."
It did. Jaeger broke in the first game of the second set, making a lovely running backhand get of a forehand cross-court drop volley. A forehand return winner down the line produced the first chink in Navratilova's armor.
But Navratilova broke back on the fifth break point of the next game and the set was even and stayed even until Jaeger served at 2-3. Jaeger was hitting out, Navratilova staying back a bit more than she should have. The passing shots that left Billie Jean King immobilized began to reappear. The returns were sharper, surer.
"I think at one point, Andrea probably said, 'This isn't too good,' and she lost her nerves," Estep said. "She probably said, 'If I'm going to lose, I'm going to go out swinging.' "
But at 40-30 in the sixth game, Navratilova hit a forehand cross court return that Jaeger thought was wide. She pointed to the spot, to no avail. Two points later, Navratilova broke for 4-2, on a long base line point that ended with a forehand cross-court that Jaeger stuck her racket at in desperation. The ball and the match dribbled away. "It was sort of a pain," Jaeger said. "It's my ad. Chalk came up, but it was from the base line. I was just sort of getting my game together."
She did not go entirely gently. She saved a match point in the eighth game (which Navratilova gained when Jaeger's forehand was belatedly called long) and forced Navratilova to work hard for it in the ninth. Four times, Jaeger had break points, thanks to scintillating forehand returns at Navratilova's feet.
Navratilova saved the last one when Jaeger's backhand return went wide. A forehand service winner gave her the third match point of the game, the fourth of the afternoon. This time, she served deep to Jaeger's forehand and the return sailed long as the day was short.
For her Wimbledon title, Navratilova received $96,000, a silver replica of the trophy and a chance to go off her oilless, sugarless, joyless diet. "Tonight I'm going to eat everything I'm not supposed to," she said. Starting with those special Czech dumplings prepared by her friend and cook, Svatka Hosohl. "They have fruit in the middle, which is fine, but then I put sugar and butter and cheese on them."
She also earned the right to say that, right now, she is the best. "Are you kidding?" she said. "Is there a doubt in anybody's mind?"