CHICAGO -- It has always been easier to read Martina Navratilova than to play her.
When she has struggled, it has so often been demonstrated by a glance toward her coach or friends, an effort to gather inspiration or encouragement, or perhaps just a nod of confirmation.
But when she is clicking, really clicking as she was in her 6-1, 6-2 victory over Zina Garrison in the finals of the Virginia Slims of Chicago yesterday, her focus is straight ahead, her emotions in check, her game seamless.
Just once yesterday, Navratilova looked up in the direction of her coach, Craig Kardon; that coming on match point. And slowly, she mouthed her semiprivate message:
"It's been a long time," she said.
She was Wimbledon champion, defeating Garrison in the finals in July 1990. Four months and no titles later, she underwent surgery on both knees, her ranking dipping below No. 2 for the first time in nine years.
The Chicago tournament was her first in the United States since the surgery. She had reached the finals in Tokyo two weeks ago, but couldn't quite get over the hump against Gabriela Sabatini.
"You start wondering, will you ever win again?" she said yesterday, $70,000 richer.
To the crowd of 7,052, Navratilova, 34, expressed her relief.
"I felt like a little kid out there with a new lease, a new attitude and a new life," she said.