The writing on the cake was misspelled. And she doubted the bottle of champagne was really a century old. But after beating Manuela Maleeva, 6-3, 6-2, last night, to win the Virginia Slims tennis tournament and the 100th singles title of her career, Martina Navratilova was too content to care.
"I'm getting to the end of my career. I'm wondering how long I'll be playing tennis," said Navratilova, who won her first professional tournament in 1974 as an amateur. "But I'm enjoying it more this week than I have in a long time."
Last night at George Washington University's Smith Center, in a match that was both elegant and fierce, Navratilova showed why she is perhaps the best woman ever to play this game. She made mistakes, even lost her service once, but whenever the 28-year-old left-hander really needed a point, she found a dozen ways to make it.
"Against the other girls, you know you can beat them, so you feel more pressure," said Maleeva, 17, explaining why she felt so little before last night's final. "Against Martina, you just go and play your best."
Navratilova is the third person to win 100 professional singles titles. Jimmy Connors reached that mark two years ago at the U.S. Open. Chris Evert Lloyd won her 100th tournament in 1980.
But Evert has won only 32 more tournaments. Navratilova has won 48 in just the last three years. During that time, Navratilova has won 318 of 325 matches, an unprecedented 98 percent rate. In the 10 years she has played for pay, Navratilova has earned more than $8 million.
"I can't believe I've been around that long," Navratilova said. Last night she showed no signs of age.
Navratilova had to work harder than she had in four previous matches this week. Maleeva, a Bulgarian who looks almost frail compared to Navratilova, has a passing shot that seems to direct itself down sidelines.
She used that shot to break Navratilova's serve in the first game of the match. The sellout crowd, perhaps fearing a rout by Navratilova, cheered loudly.
But Navratilova broke Maleeva to tie the score. Each player held serve until the eighth game, when Navratilova, waiting at the net, took advantage of two soft lobs from her opponent, slamming each for winners. She held serve to win the first set, 6-3.
In the second set, each player held serve until the fifth game. Then, Navratilova, playing patiently at the base line, moved forward to twist two cross-court backhands to break Maleeva.
Maleeva did not win another game.
"I really had to run a lot," said Navratilova. "She kept me pinned back more than anyone else. I knew I had to bide my time and come in at the right time. Sooner or later, I'd get the short ball and come in on it."
Maleeva, who cried Sunday on the court during a semfinal victory over Kathy Rinaldi, was in good spirits last night.
"I think I'm playing one of my best games I have ever played," Maleeva said. "I need to get stronger."
The victory by Navratilova was expected, if not assured. She has lost just two matches in the last 19 months, accumulating a 74-match victory streak in the process, the longest ever by a man or woman.
The woman who ended that streak, Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia, discovered at this tournament that her victory last month in Australia did not mean she had discovered the way to beat Navratilova. Sukova was crushed by Navratilova Saturday, 6-0, 6-4.
"The biggest mistake she ever made was to beat me," said Navratilova, who was only half joking.
There are some who believe Navratilova's dominance is hurting the sport. But the sellout crowds that attend most of her matches belie that opinion.
"When she is not at a tournament, people have the feeling they're seeing less than the best," said Marcia Robbins, an official with the Virginia Slim tour. "People enjoy watching someone who has surpassed everyone in the field, past and present."
Last night, tournament officials expressed their appreciation for Navratilova with a $28,000 check, a bottle of champagne and a cake that read, "Congratulations Martina on Career Singles Chamionship #100." Navratilova was the first to notice the missing letter in "championship." She offered to give spelling lessons to the baker.
In the doubles championship, Navratilova teamed with Gigi Fernandez, a 20-year-old from Puerto Rico, to defeat Sukova and Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.