Martina Navratilova, WImbledon 1978

1978: Martina Navratilova first Wimbledon title

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

On Friday, the morning of the women’s final between Navratilova and Evert, the air is cool and crisp; the packed galleries of the Centre Court hum with anticipation.

The women exchange breaks to start the match, then play the next few games lightly and elegantly. It is elevated, pleasant tennis, free of corrosive personal antagonisms. Breaks in the sixth and eight games give Evert the first set. The match is reminiscent of the Navratilova-Goolagong semifinal, with the Czech again taking the first game of the second set. Again, she is extended in the next game. But this time she mistimes an easy overhead at deuce and misses the ball completely. Disconcerted, she hits a poor volley and is handily passed by Evert to give the break back.

But the overhead blunder awakens Navratilova. She takes Evert’s serve at 15 in the next game and then holds at love. The match has climbed a level; the ethereal beginnings have yielded to tennis that takes on increasing grandeur. Evert holds to trail, 2-3. At 15-30 in the next game, with both players at the net, Evert hits a backhand volley that strikes her opponent in the head. Navratilova collapses, more from embarrassment than pain. When she gets up, smiling, Evert is waiting at the net to give her head a friendly rub. Again, the fluky occurrence stimulates Navratilova’s game. She forces Evert into an error and then makes short work of an overhead to reach deuce. Although Evert wins an advantage point, three crushing volleys by Navratilova take the game. There are no more breaks; Navratilova takes the second set, 6-4.

Evert begins the final set with a tentative game; a double fault for 15-30 and a flurry of errors give Navratilova another break. Two games go by routinely before Evert stirs again, holding four break points against her opponent. The game is a classic, with Navratilova’s booming serves and forcing volleys offset by Evert’s uncanny anticipation and precise passing shots under acute pressure. In the end, Evert finally gets the break when Navratilova floats a sliced backhand approach shot too deep in her eagerness to get to the net.

It has become one of those matches in which breaks cease to matter because the level of skill is so high. Although Chris breaks again for a 4-2 lead, Martina is unflappable. It seems as if this match will go to the player who mounts the most furious assault through the closing games, and that proves to be Navratilova. She hits her peak with a love game that levels the score at 5-all, and she takes twelve of the last thirteen points. Evert simply lacks the mental and physical stamina to stay with her, and when Navratilova hits yet another winning backhand volley right to the corner of court, it is over.

While club officials unrolled the crimson carpet for the presentation ceremony, Evert and Navratilova stood by the umpire’s chair.
“How come you’re not crying?” Evert asked.
“I don’t know,” Martina replied with embarrassment. “I don’t want to, not in front of all these people.”
“I did, the first time,” Evert said.
Navratilova was speechless.
“I can’t believe it,” Evert continued. “I hit you in the head with the ball and you started playing better.”
The winner remained incapacitated.

When the Duchess of Kent presented the trophy, she offered to assist in Navratilova’s efforts to win travel privileges for her parents.
Nobody on earth can conduct a ceremony as briefly and decorously as the English. Within minutes it was over. When Navratilova came to the pressroom, she was surprisingly coherent. She said she did not know whether to cry or laugh; all she wanted to do was share her joy with her family, whom she would call later. She felt a chauvinistic flush of pride, the first since her defection, because she considered her victory a triumph for the Czech people.

By the time the formalities were concluded and Navratilova returned to the Inn on the Park, the champion was able to get right through to her parents on the telephone.
The televised image of Martina was the first her parents had seen of her in over two years. However, the first topic of conversation between Martina and her father was the forehand volley. He told her that she was starting her backswing too high. She laughed and told him that she wasn’t calling for a lesson.

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