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Navratilova selected for 2004 team

6/27/2004

WIMBLEDON, England -- With 167 singles and 173 doubles titles, Martina Navratilova never played in the Olympics. She will this year in Athens, birthplace of the Games.

The U.S. Olympic teams were announced on Saturday at the All England Club. Playing singles for the women's 2004 Olympic team will be Venus Williams, in defense of her gold medal, Serena Williams, Jennifer Capriati and Chanda Rubin. The Williams sisters will form one doubles team, while Navratilova and Lisa Raymond will form the other.

Navratilova, 47, turned down opportunities to play in 1988 and 1992 in singles. In '88 Navratilova's doubles partner for eight years, Pam Shriver, teamed up with Zina Garrison to win the gold medal. Sixteen years later, Navratilova will play doubles and Garrison will be her coach.

Did Garrison notice the irony?

"It's kind of weird. First, I was thinking that I couldn't believe Martina has never played in an Olympics," Garrison said. "Everything is about timing. Everything is about path."

Shriver said the long summer hard court season and the U.S. Open were the reasons Navratilova didn't accept the invitations to play.

"The other day," Shriver said, from her home in California, "I was laughing about how hard she's fighting about this in '04 and how easy it was in '88 and '92 when she could have had it.

"I was all gung-ho for the Olympics, but Martina never was -- neither was Chris [Evert] but she was asked to play and reconsidered at the last minute. Martina stayed pretty firm."

In November, Navratilova began playing with Raymond at Fed Cup and on the WTA Tour in order to build an American doubles team in hopes of being selected for the Games. Raymond, who missed the cut in 2000, needed a U.S. partner.

"I never played in the Olympics," Navratilova said at the time. "That intrigued me. It just worked out for both of us in the best possible way, that this happens to be an Olympic year. We might have been playing together anyway, but I was having serious doubts whether I wanted to play next year. This sort of pushed me over the edge, the possibility of playing in the Olympics."

There's been much fuss about Navratilova playing singles again, but she's insisted all along it was to improve her doubles. Because, doubles, you see, would get her to the Olympics.

"This is definitely the last opportunity for me," Navratilova said as she accepted a wild card to Wimbledon. "I've always loved doing things I haven't done before. New experiences, that's what makes life fun."

Interestingly, 1996 gold medalist Lindsay Davenport, currently the No. 1 ranked American, did not accept her most recent invitation.

"She has said in the press earlier that because of travel and also because she's kind of dealing with her knee situation that she just chose not to go this year," Garrison said.

In May, Davenport expressed a few concerns about safety at Athens. So did Serena, who answered a question candidly in March, shortly after the bombings in Madrid once again illustrated that safety is more illusion than fact, and later regretted it.

"It is definitely a concern of mine," Williams said at the Nasdaq-100 Open. "I'd be kind of naive to say it isn't. You've got to be really careful in the world these days. There's so much going on. It's very unfortunate, but it's just either you go or you don't go, and, I mean, hopefully I'll go."

Her tone was that of reasonable concern rather than of a woman trying to hedge out of going. But on paper, it came across differently. The Associated Press picked up the quotes and soon it was on 24-hour news channels and newspapers across the country: Serena might not go to the Olympics. Sleeping, blissfully unaware, Serena received a wake-up phone call from Garrison.

"She was just as shocked waking up and seeing her picture on CNN basically saying that she wasn't going to go," Garrison said. "So it was just kind of the way the question was posed to her.

"I mean, so naturally, I mean, she felt the way she felt. So we're here and we're going on."

Proud father of two, two-time Olympians, Richard Williams said he's not going to Greece, but he wasn't concerned about his girls' well being there.

"I think the safety there will be very good," he said. "Better than them trying to get those buildings together.

"I'm not concerned. If I am, maybe I should ask them to make a will out," he said, laughing at his own joke. "Let's hope they have done that already!"

The other surprise in the team announcements was that Jennifer Capriati, who was kicked off the Fed Cup team by former captain Billie Jean King, made the team. Capriati, who won gold in Barcelona, qualified because of previous play in Fed Cup ties and though not selected for others, she had made herself available to play.

Garrison made another early morning call, this time with good news.

"She had just gotten up and I told her about the Olympics," Garrison said. "She was really just geared up. She's like, 'Oh, Zina, that's really great. Thanks.'"

Navratilova also has Garrison to thank. As soon as she heard Garrison was coaching Fed Cup, Navratilova called, asking to be considered for doubles. The rest is about to be history.

"Martina, at 47, is once again doing what she did when she got in the best shape," Garrison said. "She's changing the way we look at sports where women are concerned. I think she has done a great job in her interviews by saying, 'Hey, I'm here because I can do it.'

"Some people may see that as arrogant but the thing is, she has gotten in the best shape, she has kept her body looking like a 20-something-year-old. She can play out there with the best of them."

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis and Olympics editor for ESPN.com.