WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND -- Martina Navratilova won an unprecedented ninth Wimbledon singles title Saturday, and she fully deserves it.
Her eighth title, in 1987, had tied her for the record as a titleholder with Helen Wills Moody, whose last title came in 1938. In 1988 and '89 Navratilova was runner-up to Steffi Graf.
Her strategy against first-time finalist Zina Garrison was no different than against anyone else. Much seems to be made of Navratilova's meticulous preparation, but in truth she is so good most of the time that with few exceptions she'd win with no strategy.
Carrying a 27-1 match record against Garrison, the new queen of Wimbledon lost the first five points of the match, then established sovereignty once and for all. Coming to the net at the slightest opportunity, she volleyed with precision and was not put off by Garrison's slow play.
Sherwood Stewart, Garrison's new coach, told me before the match that their plan was for her to "take her time, play within herself, and not to think she had to play great tennis to win." She did play at a deliberate pace: She didn't try many high-risk shots, but there was not nearly enough variety to worry Navratilova.
It became fairly obvious by the end of the first set that Garrison's failure to attack Navratilova's second serve to her backhand was costly. Only once in the match did she step in and smack her backhand return instead of chipping it at her opponent's feet. Garrison's serve also lost the sting it had in upset victories over Monica Seles in the quarterfinals and Steffi Graf in the semifinals. Once her primary vulnerability on court, her service motion by the middle of the second set reverted to that apprehensive motion of a year ago.
Garrison's best shot was a lob, which kept Navratilova off balance. A perfectly placed backhand lob on the first point of the second game started her on the way to a break point, before Navratilova got back to deuce with a forehand volley before holding serve. But Garrison did not use the lob nearly enough, and then only from the backhand side.
"She was the most aggressive," Garrison said. "She was a step ahead of me every time."
As the match neared its conclusion, the 13,105 spectators at Centre Court suddenly buzzed with the much-reported but understated realization that they could say they were there when Wimbledon's greatest champion -- male or female -- won her ninth crown at age 33.
And Navratilova may be far from done.
With controversy still swirling about the Graf household over an alleged liaison between Graf's father and a former model, Navratilova is the current favorite for the U.S. Open in September. From now, Garrison is a couple of notches higher on the women's professional tennis totem pole, but she has work to do.
She should heed the advice of Althea Gibson, the first black Wimbledon champion (1957), who was flown here by NBC television at the last minute (arriving 2 1/2 hours before the match): Real champions need fast feet and at least one great shot. Garrison has the feet but not that one powerful weapon. At age 26 there's still time, but that too has its limits.