Martina agrees: she's tops in women's tennis

Martina Navratilova, the 23-year-old native of Prague who is about to receive her US citizenship papers, is the world's best woman professional tennis player. But don't take my word for it. Martina is in full agreement.

"Although Chris Evert (Lloyd) and Tracy Austin are capable of beating me occasionally, I have a much more free- wheeling game than they do," Navratilova told me recently. "I'm stronger physically, I feel I am just as consistent, and I improvise on the court a lot more.

"Whenever I lose to Chris or Tracy, it's because they played to the top of their potential and I didn't," Marina continued. "I don't have any psychological disadvantage when I play them, although some people continue to say that I do. My goal last year was to prove that I was the best in the world and I think I did that by winning 10 tournaments, including Wimbledon."

What's ahead for Navratilova (including a possible second appearance on TV's Loveboat) are more winning, more interviews, more national recognition, and more financial security. Sometime soon, probably in March, her career earnings will exceed the $2 million mark.

Asked to name the four best women players on the tour after herself, Martina (with no hesitation) listed Evert, Austin, Evonne Goolagong and Billie Jean King.

"When Chris is concentrating and really wants to win she is awfully hard for anyone to beat," Navratilova explained. "But because she is more interested in her marriage now than her career, I think Chris has lost a lot of her drive."

"Tracy just keeps getting better and better, partly because she is a lot stronger physically than she used to be," Martina continued. "At one point last year she was 6-0 against me, but by the end of the season I was beating her just as consistently."

Navratilova also said that if Goolagong was in a position where she could ignore everything else and just concentrate on tennis, she might have a chance to be No. 1. But Evonne's tournament appearances and practice time are limited by a husband and a growing young family.

Although most people might be surprised that Martina included the 36-year- old King among her first five, they shouldn't be. Navratilova not only likes Billie Jean for all the help she gave her when she first started, but has always been impressed by King's competitive toughness.

They also teamed last year to win the women's doubles crown at Wimbledon and will probably continue that alliance again this season.

Unlike most women pros, Navratilova is completely comfortable coming to the net, where she often makes silly putty of her opponent's best returns. Martina is also very aggressive, gets most of her first serves in, and in the last 12 months has noticeably improved her topspin.

When Navratilova first came to the United States from Czechoslovakia in 1973, she spoke Czech, German and Russian, but little English. She prefered American junk food to press conferences (gaining 20 pounds in one year) and often lost her poise in matches where line calls or other unforeseen things went against her.

But her maturity is now as much an extension of her personality as her tennis racket is of her left hand. Although Navratilova lives in Dallas and has become a Cowboy football fan, she also keeps a condominium in Palm Springs, and is enough of a commercial property that she has formed a small corporation. Named by herself, it is called Brat, Inc.

Currently living near Martina in Dallas and taking English lessons are her mother, her father, and her 16-year-old sister, Jana, who Martina says will be ready to join her on the pro tour in about a year.

Navratilova's biggest problem at the moment is what to do about an economy car that gets 55 miles to the gallon that she won in Japan as part of a tournament prize. The vehicle does not meet US pollution control standards, nor is she thrilled by the fact that the steering wheel is on the right-hand side.

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