Navratilova wants one more title

Stop me if you have heard this before, but Martina Navratilova is going to retire after the season. Only this time, she means it, writes Greg Garber.

Updated: July 6, 2006, 11:49 AM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Martina Navratilova has figured out how to beat the system.

"The WTA pension is going to kick in when I hit 50, so that's pretty funny," Navratilova said Tuesday. "I'll be making money and collecting pension at the same time."

Martina Navratilova (L)
Phil Cole/Getty ImagesMartina Navratilova (left) and doubles partner Liezel Huber were eliminated in the quarterfinal round.
The double dip will only last a few months because Navratilova has declared that this will be her last year of competitive tennis. She has said this before -- she retired in 1994 for the first time only to return to doubles in 2000 and singles in 2004 -- but this one rings true, for Navratilova turns 50 in October.

"She confirmed it with me," said Pam Shriver, her longtime doubles partner. "I've never heard her sound so committed to anything."

Shriver and Navratilova won 20 Grand Slam doubles titles together, including seven straight in Australia.

Last Saturday, when the All England Court honored a handful of past women's champions, Navratilova invited Shriver to join her in the Royal Box. Shriver, who doubles as an ESPN analyst, was touched.

"You have to admire her quality over time," Shriver said. "She won her first Wimbledon in 1978, won it again in 1990 and almost won it again in 1994. And then she won a Grand Slam mixed doubles title in 2003.

"Champions withstand the test of time, and nobody has stood the test of time like Martina."

The numbers are emphatic proof that Navratilova's tennis legacy is secure:

• 167 singles titles, more than any man or woman.
• 331 weeks atop the world rankings as a singles player, another record.
• 58 Grand Slam titles -- 18 singles, 31 doubles and nine mixed doubles -- two behind all-time leader Margaret Court Smith of Australia.

Twenty of those Grand Slams came at Wimbledon, which ties her for first with Billie Jean King. There is a chance Navratilova, at age 49, could pass King. She is still alive in both the ladies doubles and mixed doubles tournaments.

Playing with Liezel Huber, who was born in 1976, Navratilova's second year as a professional, Navratilova lost in the quarterfinals of the ladies doubles to Zi Yan and Jie Zheng in a match that carried over from Wednesday. (Also on Thursday, Navratilova and Mark Knowles lost in the round of 16 in the mixed draw.)

It's instructive that the Swiss woman named for her, Martina Hingis, actually retired before Navratilova -- at the age of 23 -- before returning to the tour in 2006.

It is Navratilova's insatiable hunger for competition that has kept her in the game this long. She won a singles match here two years ago, defeating Catalina Castano 6-0, 6-1, at the age of 47.

"I just came here to win a title," Navratilova said. "I'm just concentrating on that. I can get sentimental when it's over, not yet.

"I didn't come here for the strawberries and cream."

Navratilova said she wants to spend time at home in Sarasota, Fla., with her "one and only" dogs, devote more time to her charity work for gay and lesbian organizations and promote her book, "Shape Yourself."

Her plans after Wimbledon are unclear. A tweaked knee at Rome has left her questionable for scheduled hard-court doubles events in Montreal and San Diego. The U.S. Open is also in play.

"I haven't made any decisions one way or another," she said. "But the decision that this is my last year, that is definite."

Shriver wonders what would happen if Navratilova and Huber won the doubles title here.

"Do you think she'd be tempted to defend her title -- at the age of 50?" asked Shriver. "With Martina, you can never say never.

"Think about it: It's been 12 years since she retired the first time -- that's a great career."

Navratilova said she would return to Wimbledon, just not as a player.

"I'll be back," she said. "I think I'll just miss the competition, the having to perform under pressure. Hitting shots that maybe I never hit before."

Navratilova, who was born in what was then Czechoslovakia and became a U.S. citizen in 1981, acknowledged that American tennis is struggling.

"Right now we are very low, obviously -- that's stating the obvious," she said. "With [Andre] Agassi stopping, [Andy] Roddick is sort of floundering and not playing up to his potential and then we had injuries with Lindsay [Davenport].

"If Serena [Williams] and Lindsay are healthy, we're in great shape. They'll probably be in the finals. But they're not healthy. The new generation is lacking, there's no question about that. We don't have any 18-year-olds coming up."

Navratilova, who periodically has her knees drained of fluid, said she believes she could play five more years of professional doubles if she wanted to.

"But I don't want to," she said. "Now that I'll be collecting AARP discount, it's time to move on with life.

"It's time. It's enough."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.