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It's like old times for Navratilova in singles return

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England - This was women's tennis on grass at Wimbledon, where no one understands, really, how to serve and volley, or rush the net, or handle the slips and slides, the funny bounces and odd pace.

But this was also a 47-year-old woman playing a 24-year-old. It could have been a mother playing her daughter. That's what Catalina Castano of Colombia thought when she looked across the net at Martina Navratilova.

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"That thought crossed my mind," Castano said. "Martina is about the same age as my mother."

If Navratilova had been precisely that age, 50, it might have taken her three more minutes to finish.

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Instead, Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon singles champion who had not played singles at the tournament in a decade, needed a tidy 47 minutes to beat the 102nd-ranked Castano in first-round play yesterday, 6-0, 6-1. Navratilova was relentlessly aggressive. Always moving forward, she went to the net on her own first serves, second serves, on Castano's serves, and always with a plan. She went to the net 40 times in 57 points played and won 30 of those net rushes.

"I have an advantage because I know how to play on grass, period," said Navratilova, who won the first of her nine Wimbledon singles titles in 1978. "I know how to play tennis, that's an advantage. I'm a better athlete than most. Everything's an advantage. I'm a lefty. That's an advantage. I'm smart. That's an advantage."

Advantage, advantage, advantage. Game, set, match.

Navratilova played her first Wimbledon singles match in 1973, beating Christine Truman, 6-1, 6-4. Her memories were of fashion, rather than points.

"I had a tight dress," she said, laughing. "I got a dress from Fred Perry at the French Open - they give you stuff. Coming from Czechoslovakia, that was amazing. I was just happy to get anything I could play tennis in."

While Navratilova was talking after her match, Truman, now Truman-Janes, was watching her own daughter, Amanda Janes, lose a first-round match to Ai Sugiyama. Truman-Janes, 63, who won a French Open title and was a Wimbledon finalist, said she thought "it was rather a bit sad" when Navratilova resumed playing singles this year.

"I thought she was putting herself rather too much out on the line," Truman-Janes said.

And now? "I think it is remarkable."

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Truman-Janes was not the only woman who'd thought Navratilova foolish.

Since Navratilova was given wild-card singles berths in the French Open last month, then Wimbledon, there has been grumbling. Amelie Mauresmo complained that the opportunity in Paris should have gone to a young French girl instead of an aging wannabe. Those weren't her exact words but it was the feeling.

Then when Navratilova lost to Gisela Dulko in the first round, 6-1, 6-3, there was smirking in the locker room.

Castano said she feared her reception in that locker room now.

"On one hand, it's Martina," Castano said. "She's a legend. On the other hand, people are going to say, 'How weak must the tour be if Martina can still win?' I'm sad that it was me she beat because the other girls on the tour might be disappointed because I couldn't win that match."

After her loss to Dulko in Paris, Navratilova said she'd love a rematch on grass. She's getting it.

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Dulko, 19, upset 23rd-seeded Jelena Dokic, 6-3, 6-3, and will play Navratilova in the second round.

Navratilova won the first set in 17 minutes yesterday and shrugged.

In the third game of the second set, Navratilova played a point so well that it should be videotaped and shown to youngsters learning to play on grass.

Navratilova volleyed, a mediocre shot, and Castano hit a lovely lob that settled six inches inside the baseline. Navratilova had begun sprinting the moment Castano swung, though, and reached the baseline with the lob, then hit a backhand that landed in midcourt, catching Castano flat-footed and turned around. Her half-hearted chip shot landed in the net and the crowd on Court 2 howled.

When Navratilova finished the match by hitting her final volley and watching Castano knock a forehand wide, she pumped her fist, grinned and turned her baseball cap, moving the bill from back to front, then twisted off her big granny glasses.

Granny has been her nickname. For a day, Granny ruled.

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The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.


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