Last-minute pairing for Zimonjic pays off

Updated: January 31, 2004, 11:05 PM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Elena Bovina and Nenad Zimonjic, teaming for the first time, defeated defending champions Martina Navratilova and Leander Paes on Sunday to win the Australian Open mixed doubles title.

Russian right-hander Bovina and Zimonjic, from Serbia-Montenegro, ended Navratilova's hopes of a 10th Grand Slam mixed doubles title with a 6-1, 7-6 (3) center-court victory in 1 hour, 9 minutes.

Navratilova, seeded fourth with Paes, has said she will retire from tournament play at the end of the year.

Bovina, a mixed doubles finalist at the French Open in 2002, was thrilled with their breakthrough Grand Slam triumph.

"When I was a junior, my coach made us bury all the trophies for second and third place," the 20-year-old Bovina said. "I really wanted to keep this one today, so I really tried.

"It's just great to get a trophy. Doesn't matter if it's singles, doubles, mixed doubles. It's first place, it's fantastic for me."

She said it was the first time she and Zimonjic had teamed together, and "I think we did pretty good."

Zimonjic, 27, said he had left a note with WTA Tour officials before the tournament seeking a partner, and that Bovina had responded.

"I'd like to thank you guys for finding a great partner for me," he said.

Zimonjic, ranked No. 33 in doubles and with seven titles to his credit, paid tribute to Navratilova, before adding, "You've had enough wins."

Zimonjic had also teamed with Paes to win the Delray Beach doubles title last year.

Navratilova has won 167 singles titles and 173 in doubles. She has a total of 58 Grand Slam championships.

Paes was continuing his comeback from a five-month layoff due to a nonmalignant brain lesion.

He was treated for the last four months of the year in Orlando, Fla., after tests in August revealed that he had neurocysticercosis, a parasitic infection that causes a brain abscess.

Navratilova had claimed a record-tying 20th Wimbledon title last year by winning the mixed doubles with Paes, as well as their Australian title last year.

"It's a real treat to play with you," Paes said to Navratilova. "We came up a bit short today, but playing with you has been a joy and a blessing."

Navratilova was satisfied with the effort she and Paes gave.

"We almost pulled it off," Navratilova said of almost taking the second set. "You want to go down swinging and fighting and we did that. It was nice we mounted a short comeback but it was a shame we couldn't sustain it.

"I'm not saying goodbye to playing tennis, I'm just saying goodbye to hitting the ball here. I've still got a whole year to go."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press