Even in her final
pro match, Martina Navratilova was eager to get going.
"Anytime, darling," she told the chair umpire before he
signaled for play to start.
A month shy of her 50th birthday, Navratilova
closed out her competitive career Saturday night in
fitting fashion: a mixed doubles championship at the
U.S. Open for her 59th Grand Slam title. Navratilova teamed
with Bob Bryan to beat Kueta Peschke and Martin Damm
6-2, 6-3, before an appreciative crowd that stood and
cheered throughout the final game.
"See, if you play long enough, good things
happen," she told the fans. "I should know."
"It's been quite a run," she said.
The mixed doubles final was played at Arthur
Ashe Stadium in New York right after Maria
Sharapova beat Justine Henin-Hardenne for the women's
singles title. The lower bowl was mostly filled as the match
went past 11 p.m., with fans eager to see one of
tennis' greats. She made it worth their wait.
"It's just nice to go with a win," she said. "I
knew I was going to play great tonight."
Navratilova said she thought she could've played
another five years at a top level, adding, "I'm
quitting because I want to, not because I have to."
Navratilova left the sport in 1994 after winning
167 singles titles. She returned for doubles in 2000,
and insisted before this tournament that it would be
her last. "This is the last match. This is definite. Not
allegedly," she said. "This is a closed chapter. It's past
midnight. It's past my bedtime."
Damm and Peschke are both from the Czech
Republic. Navratilova defected from Czechoslovakia in
1975, announcing it during the U.S. Open.
Navratilova won six straight Wimbledon singles
titles from 1982-87. She teamed with the likes of
Billie Jean King and Chris Evert in doubles over the years.
Navratilova recalled her first pro win, in
singles at a tournament in Orlando in 1974. "I didn't
have anyone to hug, because I didn't know anyone. I
hugged a light pole next to the umpire's chair," she said.
"I won $10,000 and had to give it to the Czech federation."
Bryan and Navratilova won $150,000 for this
final victory. When they were presented the ceremonial
check, Bryan handed it to Navratilova. "All yours," he
said. (Ben Walker, AP)