Navratilova's dream of final final is reality


WIMBLEDON, England -- For one moment, Martina Navratilova allowed her concentration to wander.

Right in the middle of the second set, in what had turned into a dogfight with her friend Gigi Fernandez, she was tossing the ball for a serve and along came this uninvited thought: "I wonder what it is going to be like to be in the finals."

Navratilova missed the serve but won the match, so afterward she could admit to the lapse.

"I couldn't believe I had that thought, and I thought, 'What . . . are you doing?' " she said. "I really got mad at myself for doing that, but it only happened once."

And Navratilova, 37 and seemingly getting younger by the day, says it won't happen again.

The Wimbledon women's championship is being played tomorrow afternoon on Centre Court, and she's in it.

For the last time, the final time.

"This is what I've daydreamed about," she said, after beating Fernandez, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), for the right to play for one more title.

"This is what I promised myself when I walked off the court here last year," she said, referring to her semifinal loss to Jana Novotna. "One more chance. From here on, the focus is easy. This is now. I'm in the finals."

For the 12th time, going for an unmatched 10th women's singles title.

Her opponent for this last go-round will be Conchita Martinez, the No. 3 player in the world, who yesterday beat upset artist Lori McNeil, 3-6, 6-2, 10-8.

McNeil beat No. 1 seed Steffi Graf to pull off the biggest first-round upset in Wimbledon history, and until yesterday had not looked back.

But Martinez ousted her by using a sneaky slice serve and some wonderful ripping backhands, including the one she sent cross court on match point in the 18th game of the third set.

"I am so happy," Martinez said. "This is my first Grand Slam final -- and it's at Wimbledon. I'm going to try to play my very, very best and I think I will. This match helped my confidence so much, to be able to come through a fight like that."

McNeil was all grace in the three-set stress test against Martinez, but she had no answers for the third seed's passing shots or backhand crossing shots.

"Playing Conchita is going to be a little bit like it was when I used to play Chris [Evert]," Navratilova said. "She likes to play on the baseline. She also has a lot of topspin, and that makes it more difficult to volley. And then, if she's serving well . . ."

Tomorrow's match should shape up to be a lot more hair-raising than yesterday's was for Navratilova. Playing Fernandez, there was never any more tension than that displayed by two friends out for an afternoon practice at the Aspen Club in Colorado.

Fernandez admitted that once she settled down and started thinking of it in just those terms, she was able to play "the best tennis of my career."

Navratilova, however, said it wasn't the best tennis of her career. Her serve was off. She couldn't hit those wide outs to the ad-court. But she had played well enough, she said, and that was good enough.

But whether it will be good enough in the final, no one knows.

Martinez seems loose, with nothing to do but go for it. And in her post-match news conference yesterday, she said more than she had in nearly two weeks.

She made people laugh.

"Once, where I grew up in Spain, everyone thought grass was for cows," Martinez said. "Maybe now, I think it is for people, too."

And when asked about her fondness for psychology and what psychological ploy she could use to throw Navratilova off her game, Martinez said: "I do like psychology very much. But I am not a good psychologist. Martina is playing some great tennis, she is great player on grass and she is left-handed. So tough and she seems so relaxed. I think I better use psychology on myself and make her a great match if I can."


Men's doubles


Wayne Ferreira, South Africa, and Michael Stich (16), Germany, def. Marius Barnard and Brent Haygarth, South Africa, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

Women's singles


Martina Navratilova (4), Aspen, Colo., def. Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., 6-4, 7-6 (8-6). Conchita Martinez (3), Spain, def. Lori McNeil, Houston, 3-6, 6-2, 10-8.

Doubles quarterfinals

Jana Novotna, Czech Republic, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain, def. Pam Shriver, Baltimore, and Elizabeth Smylie (5), Australia, 6-2, 6-4. Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natalia Zvereva (1), Belarus, def. Linda Harvey-Wild, Hawthorn Woods, Ill., and Chanda Rubin, Lafayette, La., 6-1, 4-6, 6-0.

Mixed doubles

Third round

Andrei Olhovskiy, Russia, and Larisa Neiland (7), Latvia, def. Ken Flach, Alpharetta, Ga., and Julie Richardson (13), New Zealand, default. Grant Connell, Canada, and Lindsay Davenport (6), Murrieta, Calif., def. Javier Frana, Argentina, and Silvia Farina, Italy, 6-3, 6-1. Byron Black, Zimbabwe, and Pam Shriver (2), Baltimore, def. Rick Leach, Laguna Beach, Calif., and Lisa Raymond (9), Wayne, Pa., 7-6 (7-5), 6-3.



Men's semifinals

* Pete Sampras (1) vs. Todd Martin (6), tape delay, Ch. 2, 1 p.m.

* Goran Ivanisevic (4) vs. Boris Becker (7), tape delay, HBO, 5 p.m.


Women's final

* Martina Navratilova (4) vs. Conchita Martinez (3), 9 a.m., Ch. 2


* Men's final, 9 a.m., Ch. 2

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