Navratilova's US Open victory ends decade of frustration

The Americanization of Martina is complete. Eight years after leaving family and friends behind in Czechoslovakia to pursue her tennis dreams in the United States, Martina Navratilova has won her adopted country's tennis championship.

On Saturday, in the only major tournament she had never won, Navratilova ended 10 years of US Open frustrations in the most convincing fashion imaginable , beating defending champion and six-time women's singles winner Chris Evert Lloyd 6-1, 6-3.

Whatever doubts still existed about her total domination of today's women's game were emphatically laid to rest on the sun-drenched asphalt of the National Tennis Center. Navratilova went on the attack with her mid-sized racket from the opening serve and never once let up. Evert Lloyd, confronted with such a relentless opponent, just couldn't find the groove or rhythm for her lethal ground strokes.

''I didn't want to win it shaking in my boots, and I didn't want to have to be lucky to win either,'' Navratilova said after defeating the former standard bearer of women's tennis for the fifth straight time this year.

Evert Lloyd, who had taken only one set in their four previous matches, realized an incredible effort would be needed to stop the rampaging lefty who had blitzed six oopponents, including doubles partner Pam Shriver, to reach the final. Her best hope, she knew, was to force Martina to a third set, then hope the mental strain might take its toll.

Before the match, Chris had said, ''I still think she (Navratilova) might be emotionally vulnerable. That's if anyone can get close enough in a match.''

Chris often displays her best tennis at this tournament, and had arrived in New York after intensive practice in sweltering Amelia Island, Florida, with husband John and other men players. Even so, while the crowd sat in stunned silence, the first set was over so quickly a skywriter wasn't able to finish spelling out ''Good luck, Chrissie.''

Soon after the puffy white message was completed, though, the top-seeded Navratilova double-faulted to drop her serve, after which Chris held hers to go up 3-2 in the second set.

Was Martina coming apart? Would this be a repeat of 1981, when in her only other appearance in the final she jumped out to an early lead before losing to Tracy Austin 1-6, 7-6, 7-6?

''I was a little amazed I let her get back in the match,'' Navratilova confessed. ''But I wasn't thinking about what happened against Tracy. That was a long time ago, and I'm a different player now. My technique is much better, I'm in much better shape, and I've improved my serve.''

She has gained enough confidence in the latter ability to follow her second serve to the net - a tactic she employed frequently against Evert Lloyd without getting burned. It wasn't always that way, though.

Chris, in fact, monopolized the rivaly between 1973 and 1978 with a 23-6 match record. When they first met, however, Martina was a chubby 17-year-old. Since then, her 5 ft., 7 1/2 in. frame has undergone a Jack Nicklaus-like metamorphosis to a solid 140 pounds.

Some of the excess baggage was dropped simply by cutting down on her pancake and ice cream consumption. But her strength and endurance have been built up primarily by hard work.

That's why she takes exception when people suggest that excessive natural ability places her in a realm apart. ''Sure, I have a lot of natural talent, but so do a lot of other players,'' she says. ''And there are women bigger and stronger than me. But how many do the track work, running quarter miles the way I do, or play full-court basketball for an hour every day?''

The answer, she implies, is none. Few others, however, have quite as fiery a motivator in their corners as does Martina, who is driven by Nancy Lieberman, a former All-America basketball player at Old Dominion University. Lieberman was the first person she thanked in her victory speech.

Martina also gets regular encouragement from Mike Estep, her coach and former teammate on the Boston Lobsters of World Team Tennis, as well as from other friends and associates. Though some people have cynically dubbed this entourage ''Team Navratilova,'' its main function probably is as a surrogate family.

Navratilova has collected more than $6 million overall via her tennis victories, making her the game's top money earner of all time, man or woman. She took home $120,000 in prize money for her singles crown here, plus a $500,000 check for winning a commercially sponsored bonus for victories on different surfaces. She won her fourth Wimbledon title in July and is certain to finish the season as the undisputed No. 1 female player.Since the beginning of 1982, she has lost only four matches - and only one this year (to Kathy Horvath in the French Open).

All this has made people begin to wonder about Navratilova's place in the pantheon of all-time greats. But although she has now won seven Grand Slam singles titles, she still has quite a way to go to overtake Evert Lloyd with 15, along with such legends as Billie Jean King and Margaret Court.

And until she can enjoy a long run at the top, it's premature to call Navratilova the best ever. ''I think I've had seven great years,'' Evert Lloyd said. ''Martina's had two great years after seven average-to-good ones. She'd have to have six or seven more great years before she could prove she's the greatest.''

Navratilova says it takes longer to refine the serve-and-volley style than a baseline game. But that's what she always wanted to play, because as a youngster she admired fellow southpaw Rod Laver with his wide repertoire of shots. ''A good all-around player,'' she says, ''just about always beats a good baseline player.''

Staying on top, of course, is a chore, and as one who has been there, Evert Lloyd is not sure how long Navratilova's dominance can continue. ''She could lose interest,'' Chris says, ''or maybe players like Hana Mandlikova or Andrea Jaeger could raise their games to another level.''

For the time being, though, the 26-year-old Navratilova doesn't care to look ahead that much. She just wants to spend a few days in New York shopping, eating at fine restaurants, and relishing her first US Open title ''If I don't win another tournament in my life,'' she says, ''now at least I can say I did it all.''

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