WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 8 -- The only certainty in the aftermath of a hectic Wimbledon was Martina Navratilova's place in history. Zina Garrison is a new and startling player, Steffi Graf looks chased, and everybody is eyeing the No. 1 ranking speculatively in this wide-open season of women's tennis.
Navratilova's record ninth Wimbledon singles title, coming with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Garrison on Saturday, did more than establish her as the greatest player in tournament annals. Garrison's surge to the final lifted the 26-year-old to No. 4 in the world, while No. 2 Navratilova became a serious contender again for the top ranking, and she wore a covetous expression when she thought of a 10th title.
"I'm going for double digits," she said. "Why not?"
In the short-term, Navratilova has a chance to go for a single digit, the No. 1 ranking. That has been held by Graf since August 1987, but the 21-year-old West German has been beaten in her last three tournaments: by 16-year-old, third-ranked Monica Seles in the finals of the German and French opens, and by Garrison in a stunning Wimbledon semifinal, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. It marked the first time since she became the top player that Graf was upset shy of a Grand Slam final, snapping a streak of 13.
Graf is not threatened at the moment, but if she continues this trend the top ranking may belong to the player who wins the last major championship of the season: the U.S. Open in August. Seles has six tournament titles this season while Navratilova and Graf have lost just three matches (one each to the teenager), and any of them could seize the top spot.
Nothing has helped level the game more than the erosion of Graf, troubled by a nagging sinus condition that hampered her breathing and pursued by newspaper tabloid stories. Her shots were predictable and lacking their usual pace, Garrison picking them off at the net with volleys. Her slip may result from a loss of confidence, or it may be the inevitable process of the field catching up after her long stretch of dominance.
Graf's immediate plan was to go home and try to shore up her game, clearly disturbed by her sudden vulnerability to lower-ranked players, when she previously had been threatened only by Navratilova. The problem is perhaps not so much a technical one as a dispiriting struggle with poor health. The sinus condition gives her headaches and makes it difficult to breathe through her nose. She has not put in nearly as many hours of practice since she first became bothered by it at the French Open.
"They are all playing well," she said. "They are playing good matches, but I don't think I was playing too well lately. I have done better than I am doing right now, that's for sure."
Garrison has reached the U.S. Open semifinals for two years running, and must be considered a factor after reaching her first Grand Slam final by upsetting Seles in the quarterfinals and Graf in the semifinals. She got a Wimbledon title today when she and Rick Leach beat Liz Smylie and John Fitzgerald in the mixed doubles final, 7-5, 6-2.
It was a gratifying end to her best performance yet in a major championship, and she could already sense the change, the slightly different looks, the lowered voices when she entered a room. Apart from her step up in the rankings, No. 4 equaling her career high, she also got a new clothing contract with Reebok.
As for Navratilova, she is playing some of her most sublime tennis, despite a weakening left knee that will require arthroscopic surgery at some point. She also has a new sense of liberation, after breaking Helen Wills Moody's record of eight singles titles, the last goal she had set for herself. This is far from her last season; she plans to play at least through 1992.
"If the body is willing, I am," she said.