Martina Navratilova likes the view from the top, whether it is from the peak of a mountain in Colorado or the top spot in women's tennis. The air is much fresher and money is much greener.
She finished the first half of this decade as the No. 1 women's player in the world by virtue of her victory at the Australian Open in December. It was her 13th Grand Slam singles championship and 37th overall. But more than the numbers, which are very impressive, she says winning the Australian Open helped her to have some fun, relax and -- terrifying as it might be for her opponents -- regain a very confident, positive feeling about herself.
"I had a much more enjoyable end to the year," she said last night after teaming with Pam Shriver to win a first-round doubles match at the Virginia Slims of Washington at George Washington University's Smith Center. "I'm a lot more relaxed because I won the Australian Open. It was a lot nicer to hear congratulations instead of commiserations. It felt like somebody had died in my family the way everybody was walking around asking what was wrong."
After returning from Australia, Navratilova went to Aspen, Colo., from Dec. 16 through New Year's Day. She tried -- and succeeded for the most part -- to not think about how she earns her living.
"I'm very good at putting it on the shelf and coming back and being totally fresh. That's one of the keys to why I've been out here (on the tour) so long and kept it up to standard and have not got run down."
The win in Melbourne and being No. 1 are big deals in her estimation.
"I'd say so," she said, though she hastened to mention that the tennis calendar ends in March with the Virginia Slims Championships. "She would have had an edge, but now I have a big edge. The No. 1 ranking was pretty much on the line in that match."
"She," of course, is Chris Evert Lloyd and the match was the final in the Australian Open. But Navratilova thinks the rivalry is still strong.
"It was there this year," she said. "This year it was as close as ever and the level of play was so much higher. When it rained at Wimbledon, they showed replays of the '78-'79 matches and we looked like we were in slow motion. If Chris played like that now I'd kill her and if I played like that now, she'd kill me."
But being No. 1 does feel better, she admitted.
"In 1982, it was kind of special because I hadn't been No. 1 in a couple of years," she said. "In '83-'84, it seemed easy because I made a big improvement in my game and everyone else stayed the same. In '84, they started to come on, and in '85 the top 10 was much, much better.
"The players are quicker, faster, stronger. Chris has changed some and really caught up to me. But '85 was the most satisfying because I had to work harder to maintain No. 1."
Navratilova takes partial credit for the rise of the rest. She will be 30 on Oct. 18, but she is anything but run down. She still pushes herself, keeping the 5-foot-7, 145-pound body in excellent shape by exercising and playing basketball.
"They take better care of their bodies and they work harder and do other things like running and lifting weights," Navratilova said. " . . . They saw what can happen when you get motivated and do the work."
What can happen is $10 million, which is what Navratilova has totaled in career earnings, a figure no one else in the sport has reached. She will be receiving another $10,000 today when she picks up her fourth straight and sixth overall Seagram Sports Award as the 1985 women's tennis player of the year at the Washington Marriott. But more than the money, she still likes putting on a good show. And she also likes what the money allows her to do.
"I didn't make any resolutions because I don't smoke or drink and that's usually it for most people," she said. "But I always try to make this a better place to be. Either by putting on a better performance or taking care of children, which I do through my foundation. But I'd like to have as good a year as I had last year."
Navratilova scoffed at the suggestion that skiing would be dangerous.
"If I was afraid I was going to get hurt, I wouldn't drive a car either, or fly in a plane, and they seem to be falling all the time," she said. "If you're that scared, you'd have to stay in your house all the time. But then, of course, planes have crashed into houses."
Late in her doubles match, a TV camera crew maneuvered itself onto courtside. Navratilova waited for the two men to get settled and then waved to the camera.
"I used to do more of that," she said. "The Martina of '73 would have gone over, sat down and chatted. But you can joke around when you're getting beat. If you're winning, it's not fair to your opponent."
Then, lowering her eyes a bit and smiling, she added, "So, I don't get to do it as much as I'd like to."