Navratilova survives first round Defending champion tested by Reinach


WIMBLEDON, England -- Martina Navratilova has no fear of facing the cameras on "A Current Affair." She ignores the tabloids that breathlessly report the innermost thoughts of her spurned companion and former business partner. Lawyers armed with multimillion-dollar palimony suits don't even bother this woman.

But put her on Centre Court at Wimbledon, and watch her squirm.

Her face is contorted with anger after a missed shot. She stands, arms folded on the baseline, when she loses a set. Finally, she lunges, reaching for a backhand winner and greatness, the picture of a champion fighting for her turf.

Yesterday, a funny thing nearly happened to Navratilova on her way to creating a little tennis history at Wimbledon. For three sets, she turned a nobody named Elna Reinach into a somebody. The opening-day crowd scrambled from the pubs and corporate tents into the Centre Court stadium to witness an upset for the ages.

But Navratilova steadied herself, ripped off 12 of the final 13 points and won, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. It was her 100th career singles victory at Wimbledon, giving the nine-time champion a stumbling boost in her bid for 10.

"I felt like Sisyphus -- you have to keep pushing the stone up," Navratilova said. "As soon as I got close to the top, it came down again. I felt like I was against the wind the whole time. But I came through."

It was a dramatic opening to a rain-drenched tournament. Monday's matches were washed out, and slate-gray skies yielded two showers yesterday that curtailed play, withonly six men's matches and 22 women's matches completed.

Top women's seed Steffi Graf cruised to a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Sabine Appelmans. No. 4 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario defeated Barbara Rittner, 6-1, 6-2; No. 5 Mary Joe Fernandez defeated Petra Kamstra, 6-2, 6-4; and No. 7 Zina Garrison, last year's losing finalist, defeated Sara Gomer, 6-3, 6-3.

Three-time men's champion John McEnroe defeated Brazilian clay-court specialist Jaime Oncins, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4, and 1987 champion Pat Cash defeated Jeff Tarango, 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

Seventeen men's matches and three women's matches were suspended at 6:50 p.m. Defending men's champion Stefan Edberg led Marc Rosset, 6-4, 6-4, 0-1, when showers ended the day.

But the highlight of the day was provided by Navratilova and Reinach. Little was expected of the match. This was billed as just a formal opener on an immaculate court -- a 34-year-old champion against a 22-year-old from South Africa.

"I was just trying to drink in the fact this was the first time I was playing on the court, before the guys were on it, and there are no blemishes on there," Navratilova said. "So I'm really looking around enjoying myself."

Still, these are strange times for Navratilova, whose personal life is the stuff of soap opera. She recently severed her relationship with longtime companion and business partner Judy Nelson, and has been linked with former U.S. Olympic skier Cindy Nelson.

In an "exclusive" interview published by the Daily Express yesterday, Judy Nelson is quoted as saying, "I love Martina and I always will. Our years together mean everything to me, and I hope they will also mean something to Martina."

Just in case, though, Judy Nelson has hired lawyers and slapped Navratilova with a palimony lawsuit in Texas.

"I don't see lawyers hitting the balls out there," Navratilova said, but added that her legal problems are not affecting her ability to concentrate on the court. "Elna may be studying law, but I don't know."

Reinach wasn't throwing torts at Navratilova, either; she was unloading an assortment of lobs and passing shots while carting off the first set. Suddenly, Navratilova was on the ropes.

"I did think about 1974, because I lost in the first round," Navratilova said. "I mean, I was all over the place emotionally -- 'I'm really going to enjoy this occasion, defending champion, this and that,' -- and the next thing I know I lose the first set. I'm in a battle. So I let the occasion take over the fight. I had to play a match. Believe me, it is not going to happen again. That was a bad mistake on my part."

Form and emotion carried Navratilova. She won the second set, battled through two service breaks in the third, and stared down defeat as Reinach served at 4-3, 30-0.

"I guess when it came to the pinch, I got scared," Reinach said. "I got scared of trying to go for it."

That was all the opening Navratilova needed. She ran the table and ran off the court, a winner and still a champion. "Sure, I thought I could lose," Navratilova said. "But until the last ball was hit, I was going to do everything I could to stay out there."

Centre Court may make her nervous, but it is the place she calls home.

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