CHICAGO -- Martina Navratilova made history yesterday and made it seem like mythology.
Playing before a crowd of 8,341 in a Pavilion match that was masterpiece theater from beginning to end, the 35-year-old left-hander defeated Jana Novotna 7-6 (7-4), 4-6, 7-5 to win her 12th Virginia Slims of Chicago championship.
It was her 158th tournament title in a career that began in her native Czechoslovakia in the early 1970s, and it enabled her to break the record for total victories that she had shared with the retired Chris Evert.
"You can lie to yourself and say the record isn't in your mind, but it's rough," Navratilova said. "I was emotionally tired."
Navratilova won in dramatic fashion, making a classic comeback.
It seemed fitting and proper that it came in the Chicago Slims, where her 12 wins are her highest output of any tournament.
"I already was preparing my loser's speech," said Navratilova, looking back on how bleak it was in Game 9 of the third set.
At that point, Navratilova trailed 5-3 and was serving to an adversary who had broken three of her four previous service games in the set.
Then, she perished the thought of defeat and asked herself: "If I can't break the record in Chicago, where am I going to break it?"
Still in jeopardy but now seeing clearly the way out, Navratilova proceeded to win the 11th and 12th games, the match and the tournament that gave her a record seemingly destined to last longer than a lifetime.
"At the end, the moment took over the history part," said Navratilova, who moved to the brink of victory with a well-placed shot and then hit the winner of all winners to end the match. "I had to take advantage of the opportunity.
"I don't think anybody will ever break it [the record]. It means winning 12 tournaments a year for 14 years, and I don't see anybody playing that long. Now it's much, much more physically and mentally demanding than when I came into tennis. I played 12 tournaments before I met the press. And now there are endorsements and appearances; you don't just play tennis.
"I'm probably the last generation to play for the love of the game. That's not good and that's not bad. I'm still out there because I love the game and I can afford to play it because of the money I've made playing it. Even if I can have this moment once a year, it's worth it."
Then, her historic press conference concluded, Navratilova went back out and played tennis, teaming with her longtime friend and partner, Pam Shriver, to defeat Zina Garrison and Chicago's Katrina Adams 6-4, 7-6 (9-7) in a thrilling match for the doubles championship.
Navratilova wouldn't have wanted it any other way.