Thursday, March 5
Martina nabs 20th Wimbledon title

ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- So there she was on Court 1 and Centre Court both in one day: Martina Navratilova playing on grass and making history once again.

Thirty years after she first played here, Martina Navratilova won the mixed doubles title with Leander Paes on Sunday. With the title, Navratilova ties Billie Jean King for the record of 20 titles at Wimbledon. Coincidentally, King earned that 20th title with Navratilova in doubles in 1979.

King has six singles titles, 10 in doubles and four in mixed. Navratilova has nine singles titles, seven in doubles and four in mixed. It's a record Navratilova said she didn't even know she could reach until she started playing here. Before the match, King wished her well.

"She's a great champion," Navratilova said. "She wished me luck, and I believe she meant it."

Paes and Navratilova beat Andy Ram and Anasstasia Rodionova 6-3, 6-3 in the final. Just a few hours earlier, they defeated Leos Friedl and Liezel Huber 7-5, 6-4 in the semifinals. It's their second major mixed doubles title of the year -- they won the Australian Open without dropping a set. And Navratilova joked that it never would have happened if they both hadn't been dumped by their respective mixed doubles partners.

"That's how we got together at the U.S. Open," Navratilova said.

"Well, for this little kid from India, it was a dream to be on Centre Court & for me to be out on Centre Court with a true legend of our sport Martina Navratilova is a dream come true," Paes said. "Thank you Martina for letting me be your vehicle to greatness."

"Martina is enjoying this at a totally different level than when she was winning in singles here," said Pam Shriver, who won 20 major doubles titles with Navratilova.

Navratilova did seem to savor this as if it were a singles title. And she repeated an action she made after defeating Conchita Martinez in 1994.

"I think I'm going to have to take another piece of the grass on the way out," Navratilova said. "I took one in 1994, and I think it's time for another patch."

She says competing is different these days.

"Initially, I mean, you try to be No. 1. You try to be the greatest of all time. That's really a long-term goal. You want to be No. 1. You want to win Grand Slams. It's all very selfish. &

"And this time around. When I first started playing, I just wanted to see what it would feel like again. I got such amazing response from the fans, and the media, as well, the players, my peers, people that are actually younger than I am, but who are playing the 35-and-over or the 45-and-over, and they're inspired." Navratilova ranks second in career titles at all the Grand Slam events with 57: 18 in singles, 31 in doubles and eight in mixed doubles. Margaret Smith Court holds the record with 62 (24 singles, 19 doubles, 19 mixed).

What motivates someone with those kinds of numbers to keep playing and training enough to be in the shape at age 46 to play back-to-back matches on final Sunday? For Navratilova, it's a love of the game combined with a desire, as always, to be the best she can be.

"People say, 'God you're so fit.' What's the option?" Navratilova said. "Yeah, I don't have to be as fit as I am. But if I want to play, then I need to be. And you know, you don't want to be limited by something you can control."

As for motivation this fortnight, Navratilova found inspiration from the late Katharine Hepburn, a friend Navratilova always wanted to watch her at Wimbledon but who never did. Navratilova admired Hepburn's pioneering spirit and determination to live her life on her own terms and not society's. Sounds like someone familiar.

At Hepburn's recent passing, Navratilova thought, "OK. Kate, this one's gonna be for you."

These days, it's Navratilova who is the inspiration. Fans of all ages and walks of life appreciate her determination to continue playing -- and winning -- as the oldest competitor at these major events.

"That's what's amazing, you know, that because I hit a fuzzy yellow tennis ball, that inspires people to do more with life. It just doesn't get any better than that."

She is, quite simply, Paes said, a legend.

"Martina is Martina, and she's a legend in every little town and village across the globe. She doesn't only stand for our sport, but she stands for mankind. Her athleticism, her as a person, as a human being, her character, to go out and do things her way, is just fantastic. And that is the charm about Martina."

When asked what could stop her from continuing to charm the crowds, she declined, saying it is too private. But she's obviously not planning to put Wimbledon behind her.

"It will always be a part of my life until the day I die," she said.

Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor at ESPN.com.