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Navratilova still commands attention


NEW YORK - She came. She played. And she was conquered. But Martina Naravatilova, 43, still can hold an audience.

She packed each stadium she played during her women's doubles and mixed doubles matches at the U.S. Open and said the crowd's appreciation surprised her.

"I mean, what I'm getting from the crowd I never got in my life, even the last couple years on the tour," she said, after she and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario lost their third-round match to No. 7 Anke Huber and Barbara Schettt. "They want me to do well. ... They're sweet. They're great. They're supportive.''

And yesterday, in the post-match interview room, she kept the media in their seats twice as long as anyone else has over the past nine days. Here's a sampling of why: Does she wish there was a formal women's seniors tour like the men have? "Don't want to do that. I want to play with the real guys, you know, with the young kids. It's fun to tap into another generation."

John McEnroe has had a lot of fun playing a modern-day Bobby Riggs, suggesting a match with Venus Williams. Does she think that would be good for tennis? "I think it would be great for McEnroe. I don't see how it would be good for anybody else. Same old, same old. Apples and oranges. It's like saying that Barbra Streisand can sing as well as Elton John."

Her thoughts on Jelena Dokic and her father, Damir, who was banned from the U.S. Tennis Center due to an outburst over the size of the salmon he was served: "I see fear in her eyes when she looks up at her father during the match. ... She's afraid of failing. You can't play tennis in that environment."

Why hasn't Anna Kournikova won a Grand Slam? "She's just not willing to get in the trenches. She doesn't need to ... I don't think she's got the motivation. ... She has the ability, but I don't think she has the hunger. ... Maybe I'll [tick] her off enough with these comments to get her going. I doubt it.''

Yesterday was the 25th anniversary of Navratilova's defection from Czechoslovakia. What does she remember? "Not much really, mostly what I see in press conference blurbs on TV, how very thick my accent was then. I had no idea how big it was ... and me, just playing tennis. ... "

In the middle of the interview, someone asked her what, at this point in her life, does she want to accomplish, and a strange thing happened.

"I want to be a better person,'' she said.

How will she do that?

"Work" she said, and tears fell inexplicably from her eyes.

Et cetera

No. 6 Monica Seles lost the first set of her match to No. 1 Martina Hingis last night 6-0 in 13 minutes. She eventually lost the match, 6-0, 7-5. The victory moves Hingis into the semifinals against No. 3 Venus Williams, who advanced earlier in the day, beating Nathalie Tauziat, 6-4, 1-6, 6-1. ... Williams has double faulted 37 times in the tournament, Hingis not once. But Williams has 25 aces. Hingis has six.

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