WIMBLEDON, England -- The bright lights are back on Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl on the eve of the All England Lawn Tennis Championships that begin here Monday.
The two expatriate Czechoslovaks have been in the spotlight here for more than a decade; Lendl for trying to win his first Wimbledon and Navratilova for getting to the top and trying to stay there.
Lendl will have to beat the likes of Boris Becker, John McEnroe and Stefan Edberg, all previous winners. I think he can do it.
Lendl is playing the best grass-court tennis of his career. He skipped the French Open three weeks ago to give full attention to prepare for his least favorite surface. Though he won the major tuneup at Queen's Club over Becker last week, this "pole position" may be his undoing since he is now a true favorite and expected to win.
Becker has been an enigma so far this season. With much public notice he asked the West German people and his tennis federation to excuse him from Davis Cup competition for 1990 so he could supplant Lendl at the top of the rankings.
He then proceeded to have a mediocre start. Likewise, Edberg has been stale this year with few inspiring matches. And by his own admission, McEnroe is a long shot. I really don't think any other man can win.
A couple of floaters -- unseeded players who could do damage but have slim chances of winning -- are Miloslav Mecir and Kevin Curren. Mecir is always dangerous and could give Edberg a sleepless night preceding their expected second-round match. Curren, who reached the final in 1985 against 17-year-old Becker, has a wonderful opportunity to reach the semifinals if he gets past sixth-seeded Tim Mayotte in the second round. Mayotte has dropped out of the top 10 and is given the sixth seed purely on previous performance here. Mayotte and Curren are in McEnroe's quarter of the draw, the weakest section of the tournament.
Second-seeded Navratilova and 12th-seeded Jennifer Capriati provide neat bookends for a reading of the Ladies (they don't use "women" over here) Championship. Navratilova, like Lendl, passed up the French to prepare to make history as the only nine-time winner. Capriati will be followed more closely than any of the 256 players in either draw, and can write her own page in the Wimbledon annals by just living up to her seeded position.
Top-seeded Steffi Graf remains the favorite despite folding in the French final against Monica Seles. However, the most awaited encounter of this 13-day event is a possible fourth-round Graf-Capriati match. If Graf cannot control the natural nervousness, Capriati could prevail.
Aside from Graf, Navratilova, No. 3 Seles and a mentally weary No. 4 Gabriela Sabatini, Zina Garrison stands the best chance of winning. Garrison is a newlywed who is playing well and won one of the warm-up events. Though she has never won a Grand Slam tournament, this fleet-footed fifth seed is in a field in which the top seed is now vulnerable, the second seed is near the end of her career, the third seed has yet to win on grass, and the fourth seed really doesn't feel like playing.
This very well may be Lendl's year to win the prize he says he would gladly trade for a handful of others. If he does win, he would be admired more for his unwavering attention to his craft than for his ability to entertain. He is no McEnroe, but then McEnroe clearly took his uncommon talent for granted. On the day before Lendl's expected victory, Navratilova will win her ninth title, thus laying claim to the greatest player ever to grace the grounds here on Church Road. Should they both win, their victories will be testament to the traditional lesson taught by all sports competition: supreme effort, dedication, preparation and a little bit of luck.