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Martina falls short in Olympic medal quest

ATHENS, Greece -- Martina Navratilova's long, illustrious
career will end without an Olympic medal.

She's taken everything else -- dozens of Grand Slam titles and
years ranked No. 1 -- but one last hurrah as an Olympic rookie at 47
didn't pan out.

Third-seeded Navratilova and Lisa Raymond lost 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 on
Thursday night to fifth-seeded Shinobu Asagoe and Ai Sugiyama of
Japan in the quarterfinals, one step shy of the medal round.

"This was never a dream of mine when I was growing up. It was a
bonus I was able to be here," Navratilova said. "It's
disappointing, of course. We were hoping to get a medal. But the
end of a dream? No. I am living my dream."

She retired the first time in 1994, came back to play doubles in
2000, and has said 2004 will be her final season. She left some
wiggle room Thursday, though, saying: "Next year, I have no plan.
I just want to finish out the year and see what happens."

For Navratilova, the Athens Games meant a chance to accomplish
about the only thing she hasn't. She relished her first Olympics,
marching wide-eyed in the opening ceremony and taking time to seek
out stars from other sports.

"It's a great experience," Navratilova said. "I just wish we
had done better."

That's right: It wasn't all just for fun.

She wanted to win, too.

After smacking a forehand return that allowed the Americans to
break back to 2-2 in the third set, Navratilova raised a clenched
fist and yelled, "Come on!"

When she hit a forehand four games later right to the perfect
spot, where neither opponent could get it, Navratilova skipped over
to Raymond for a high-five.

And, faced with the Japanese duo's first match point,
Navratilova spun to swat an over-the-shoulder, back-to-the-net
volley winner.

Alas, with Sugiyama serving for the match, Navratilova was a
step slow for a backhand volley that dropped into the net. Two
points later, another backhand volley sailed wide to end the match.

"I feel so bad for Martina," U.S. coach Zina Garrison said.
"She worked so hard all year to get here."

After the last point, Navratilova went to sit in her changeover
chair, watching Asagoe and Sugiyama walk to the middle of the court
to wave at the crowd. They'll face No. 2 Conchita Martinez and
Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain in the semifinals. No. 8 Li Ting
and Sun Tian Tian of China -- who beat Williams and Rubin in the
first round -- play No. 7 Paola Suarez and Patricia Tarabini of
Argentina.

When Navratilova rose, fans gave her a standing ovation,
figuring there won't be many more chances to see her play.

The U.S. Open, which starts Aug. 30, could be the finish to a
rich career filled with 331 weeks ranked No. 1 as far back as the
1970s, 18 major singles titles and another 40 Slams in doubles or
mixed doubles.

No tennis player ever participated in an Olympics at her age;
Blanche Hilliard of the United States was 44 in 1908, while Norman
Brookes of Australia was 46 in 1924.

"People wrote me off at 25. They said I was finished,"
Navratilova said. "The age limit has been raised to the 40s,
rather than the 30s."

With Navratilova and Raymond gone, it's the first time since
tennis returned to the Olympics as a medal sport in 1988 that the
United States won't win the gold in women's doubles. It's also the
first time no U.S. woman will leave with any medal.

"It's disappointing," Garrison said. "It's a bit of a downer
for me."