WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 7 -- Martina Navratilova slowly knelt in the grass of her Wimbledon. Swathed in its colors, stripes of purple and green like the awnings of the All England Club, the 33-year-old Navratilova won a record ninth Wimbledon title today to become the all-time singles champion.
Moving her aging limbs with the inspiration of a last, best chance, Navratilova defeated Zina Garrison in the final, 6-4, 6-1. Their match merely was a brief hindrance to a long-sought moment. Navratilova fulfilled an unlikely but unquenchable ambition to take sole possession of the record she shared with Helen Wills Moody -- eight titles -- and also became the oldest woman to win the coveted plate since Dorothea Lambert Chambers in 1914 at age 35.
"Everything came up nines," she said.
Garrison, the 26-year-old from Houston who was the first black woman in a final since two-time champion Althea Gibson in 1957-58, was brought to a standstill by the lunging and twirling of Navratilova. Her play in the first Grand Slam final of her career was grudging and creditable, but also hopeless. She could only look on hungrily as Navratilova lofted the trophy.
"I can't comprehend even one title," Garrison said. "Nine is just amazing. She really believes it's her court, and no one can take it away from her."
As Garrison's last errant backhand arced toward the baseline, Navratilova spun and stared. It landed well deep, and Navratilova thrust both arms into the air and threw back her head. She then paced distractedly around the court in a celebration ritual that was part Bjorn Borg and part Pat Cash, with a flood of tears that was strictly her own.
She sauntered toward her chair, where she suddenly sank to the Centre Court grass as if under a weight. She rose weeping and darted into the stands, where she flung herself into the arms of coaches Craig Karden and Billie Jean King and friend Judy Nelson, reminiscent of 1987 champion Cash's leap up the balustrade to his father. Navratilova composed herself to greet the Duchess of Kent, who grasped her hands and kissed both cheeks like a member of the family. She accepted the large gold plate and embraced it to roars.
"You don't need to say anything," Navratilova said. "You just look at the plate, and when there are tears rolling down my eyes I don't need to make speeches."
Navratilova's gratified reaction and the establishing of a historical record enlivened what was otherwise a somewhat desultory and anticlimactic match. Fifth-ranked Garrison had upset No. 3 Monica Seles in the quarterfinals and top-ranked and defending champion Steffi Graf in the semifinals to make Wimbledon a personal if not quite complete triumph. But another upset of one of the top three players was too improbable.
She took Centre Court somewhat wearily, and with the knowledge that No. 2 Navratilova had beaten her 27 times in 28 meetings. Navratilova made it all the more difficult with her nearly immaculate play, committing nine unforced errors to 32 winners.
"I knew this was my best chance so far, and maybe I would never have as good a chance," Navratilova said. "So I didn't want it to get away. It was my match to win."
Garrison had just two break points all match, and converted neither against left-handed Navratilova's sliding serve. She had to stare down 11 break points on her serve, and it was a testament to her stubborn play that she killed all but four. But Garrison lacked her usual quick-handedness and foot speed, perhaps because she was strained by appearances in the semifinals of the doubles and mixed doubles in addition to her climb through the singles draw. She reacted to the loss with a cheerful fatalism, happy to have caught such a tantalizing glimpse of the Wimbledon trophy.
"I couldn't take my eyes off it," she said.
If Garrison's form was disappointingly shy of the ingeniousness she showed in upsetting Graf and Seles, she could congratulate herself on putting to rest the perception that she could not break through in big matches. As they shook hands at the net, Navratilova told Garrison she probably would win Wimbledon one day. "But you won't have to play me," she said.
"I still believe that I'm just starting to play my game," Garrison said. "I'm just starting to become Zina Garrison, the player that I know I can be."
It did not detract from Navratilova's contentment that Garrison was her victim, rather than arch rival Graf. The West German had beaten her two straight years in painful three-set matches, and was widely expected to be across the net today. When Graf was upset by Garrison, the entire burden of pressure suddenly shifted to the nerve-wracked shoulders of Navratilova.
"It would have been fitting," Navratilova said. "But at the same time obviously Zina earned her place there. There is no belittling her effort or ability. She wasn't given" her spot in the final.
Nor did it bother Navratilova that the tennis frequently did not quite meet the occasion, and Garrison did not give her the title quite as freely as the score suggests. The first set was tense, as Navratilova had to smother a break point in the second game with an angry backhand volley. She then broke serve with a hard, sliced backhand at an impossible angle for a 2-1 lead, but Garrison went on to fend off three break points in her next two service games.
Finally, Navratilova held serve at love to take the set. She clinched it with a picturesque, low backhand volley that curled into open court.
The match became hers for good when Garrison could not hold serve in a trying third game of the second set. They waged a 22-point duel, with seven deuces. Garrison gamely held off four break points before Navratilova delivered two paused, considered backhands that skimmed past Garrison at the net and landed noiselessly. That gave Navratilova a lead, 2-1, she never relinquished.
The only moment of doubt came in the next game, as Garrison gained her second and last break point with a smooth, poised forehand down the line. But Navratilova unwound three straight booming serves to hold, Garrison hitting them weakly into the net. Navratilova then broke serve a fourth and last time for the match, with the help of two scathing forehand winners and pumps of her fist.
"I just wanted to win," she said. "I didn't care if I had to scrape, scratch or crawl out there. It didn't have to be a thing of beauty."
Navratilova, becoming the fourth-oldest women's singles champion, won her ninth title in a span of 13 tournaments. Moody's eight titles came in a 12-tournament span.
It was Navratilova's first Grand Slam title since 1987, and the culmination of 14 months of labor. The intervening three years had been deeply unhappy ones as she suffered burnout, considered retiring, and was surpassed by Graf, who in 1988 made a history-making sweep of the four Grand Slam tournaments.
But while observers predicted she was finished as a champion, Navratilova gathered herself defiantly, with the urging of Karden and King, who in 1982 reached the semifinals of Wimbledon at age 38.
"I knew I had one more in me," Navratilova said. "This time I really had to wait for it."
As the day ended, Navratilova and Garrison's thoughts were of champagne. When Garrison first came to Wimbledon eight years ago, she bought a bottle of Dom Perignon. She has saved it, waiting to savor it with husband Willard Jackson after her first title. "We're getting closer to opening that bottle, but we still have to wait awhile," she said. "It's getting pretty old."
Navratilova returned to the house she rented adjoining the grounds, where a host of friends, including Karden and King, had stocked several bottles.
"I have never been drunk in my life," Navratilova said. "But I think this may be the day."
Doubles: Top-seeded Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova won the women's doubles, 6-3, 6-4, over No. 6 Kathy Jordan and Liz Smylie.
The top-seeded men's team also won. Rick Leach and Jim Pugh beat No. 2 Pieter Aldrich and Danie Visser, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-5).
1990: def. Zina Garrison, 6-4, 6-1.
1987: def. Steffi Graf, 7-5, 6-3.
1986: def. Hana Mandlikova, 7-6 (7-1), 6-3.
1985: def. Chris Evert, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
1984: def. Chris Evert, 7-6, 6-2.
1983: def. Andrea Jaeger, 6-0, 6-3.
1982: def. Chris Evert, 6-1, 3-6, 6-2.
1979: def. Chris Evert, 6-4, 6-4.
1978: def. Chris Evert, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5.
......................... Nav. ..... Garr.
SERVICE: Aces ............. 1 ......... 1
Winners .................. 0 ......... 3
Double faults ............ 0 ......... 2
First-serve pct. ........ 73 ........ 66
First-serve pts. ..... 28-38 ..... 27-46
Second-serve pts. .... 10-14 ..... 10-24
RETURNS: In-play pct. ... 84 ........ 71
Break points ............ 11 ......... 2
Break pts. conv. ......... 4 ......... 0
Conversion pct. ......... 39 ......... 0
NET PLAY: Points ...... 49-71 ..... 26-50
Winners ................. 22 ......... 7
Forced errors ............ 6 ......... 7
Unforced errors .......... 5 ......... 3
Times passed ............. 9 ......... 9
BACKCOURT: Fore. win. ..... 6 ......... 4
Back. winners ............ 3 ......... 5
Fore. forced err. ........ 7 ......... 3
Back. forced err. ........ 9 ........ 12
Fore. unforced err. ...... 2 ......... 2
Back. unforced err. ...... 2 ........ 10
TOTALS: Winners .......... 32 ........ 20
Forced errors ........... 22 ........ 22
Unforced errors .......... 9 ........ 15
Points won .............. 71 ........ 51