This match was something that just doesn't happen in real life. It seemed like something out of a movie script at the time, as if Hollywood were trying to create a tennis thriller. In the first set, it seems Steffi has control until the last minute and Navratilova starts running away with it. There is briefly a feeling that the kid is headed for another straight sets loss in the final. And then just an amazing barrage of winners, tremendous court coverage, a sense that nothing is impossible. If this match, this Wimbledon tournament were a horse race, it would look a lot like this: http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/secretariatcom_2265_1159549
We note that Martina is --finally-- at her gracious-in-defeat best. Even saying the magic words about losing to a better player. And we note that Steffi acknowledges Navratilova's relationship with Wimbledon and empathizes with her loss of the title and the chance (for this year) for the record. It would seem that bygones are bygones. Of course, the peace is short-lived...
Great Plate Passes to Graf
Saturday, July 2, 1988
MIKE DAVIS, Gannett News Service
WIMBLEDON, England - The Great Plate, and the eternal flame of women's tennis, has passed into younger, stronger hands, and it looks like they're going to be hanging onto it for a while.
Saturday, July 2, 1988. Write it down and remember it. On that date, the Martina Era ended and the Steffi Era began.
It happened with the shocking suddenness of a clap of thunder. Steffi Graf, down a set and trailing 2-0 in the second, unleashed a blast of pure heat not felt since they stopped atmospheric A-bomb testing.
Graf won nine consecutive games and 12 of the final 13 to level Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon ladies singles final and capture the third leg of what could be the first Grand Slam in women's tennis since 1970.
The final count Saturday was 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, but it didn't seem like a three-set match. It seemed like a rout, just like all of Graf's matches during this tournament.
Heck, it WAS a rout.
"I got blown out," Navratilova admitted.
And aced out of some pretty heavy history.
Gone, for this year and maybe forever, is Martina's chance for a ninth singles title here; she still shares the all-time record of eight with Helen Wills Moody.
Gone is her 47-match Wimbledon singles winning streak, three short of Moody's tournament record.
Gone is her distinction of never having lost a Wimbledon singles final.
Gone is the era of a great champion who, along with Chris Evert, dominated women's tennis for nearly two decades.
"It's a very special feeling," Graf said of her first (of many?) Wimbledon crown. "When I won the French Open last year (her first Grand Slam title) I didn't think I'd ever feel that way again. But I did today.
"It's a sad thing for her," she added. "I know she was really up to win her ninth title. It means a lot to her. This is her tournament. She's won it so many times."
Six straight, before Saturday.
It can't be stated for certain, of course, that Navratilova is through. She'll probably take another shot at Graf in the U.S. Open, and she stopped short Saturday of saying this would be her final Wimbledon.
But the handwriting is there on the ivy-covered walls of Centre Court - where yesterday, for the first time since 1981, somebody besides Navratilova held aloft the champion's silver plate in the post-match ceremony.
Martina will be 32 in October, and when asked if she'd be back next year, she said, "I don't know. We'll see how my body holds up."
Graf just turned 19, making her the youngest ladies' champion here since Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly, who was 17 when she won in 1952 and 18 when she did it again in '53.
And if there has ever been a quicker, more agile all-around athlete in the women's game than Graf, her name does not leap to mind. If Navratilova can be humiliated by Graf as she was Saturday on grass - Martina's best surface, Steffi's worst - it seems doubtful that she can beat her younger rival anywhere else, either.
"It would be hard to put a period behind the end of an era yet," Martina said. "But this is definitely the end of a chapter. The torch has sort of been passed, if you want to put it that way."
Passed? Graf grabbed it with both fists and ran. Fast.
There was no single moment either player could point to and say, "This is where the match turned."
But after her serve was broken in the second game of the second set, Graf lifted her game out of its first-set doldrums, and Navratilova couldn't keep up.
The first set went much like the Graf-Navratilova final here last year, won by Martina 7-5, 6-3. Navratilova kept working Graf's suspect backhand, and Graf kept making errors - with the backhand and, surprisingly, with her powerful forehand as well.
Martina broke Graf in the 10th game and again at 5-6, 15-40, when a sensational backhand cross-court winner struck from behind the baseline gave her the set.
But even at that precarious stage, it was clear Graf was a different player than the one Navratilova beat a year ago. Her shots weren't missing by much, and many of her backhands were delivered with authoritative, overspin punch - not the weak slices that set up so many easy Navratilova volleys a year ago.
Graf knew the backhand was what she needed to improvement most if she was to handle Martina's slicing left-handed serves.
So in preparation for Saturday's match - and in lieu of a woman player who could emulate the Navratilova serve, of which there are none on this planet - Graf enlisted the aid of a couple male left-handed practice partners. One was Mark Woodforde, the young Australian who lost to Ivan Lendl in the fourth round of the men's draw. The other, according to the BBC, was an unidentified "Shakespearean actor."
The work paid off, starting about the third game of the second set, when Graf broke Navratilova to put the set back on serve.
But it was at 30-15 of the next game that Graf gave a real glimpse of what was to come. She ran to the baseline to return a Navratilova lob, then sprinted to the net to scoop up a drop volley and push it cross-court with the forehand for a winner.
It was the kind of play only an athlete like Graf can make. Even Martina applauded.
Steffi broke again in the fifth game on a passing shot ... with the backhand.
And the roll was on. Over the next six games Navratilova won only eight points. Graf was galloping all over the court, slamming winners from either wing, taking the net with new-found aggressiveness and volleying decisively, running down anything that looked like a Navratilova winner and turning it into one of her own.
"She was everywhere. She was so fast," said Martina, sounding amazed. "Balls most players can't even get to, she hits winners off of. And once she gets going, she's hard to stop."
Navratilova momentarily stemmed the tide by breaking Graf's serve in the fourth game of the third set. But even then she seemed beaten.
A brief rain shower caused a suspension of play after that game, and while the players waited it out in the locker room, Graf said, "I saw her and she was down. I thought then she'd have a tough time."
She did. Graf broke back in the fifth game, held at love, then broke again, cashing in her first match point with a cross-court backhand that nicked the tape and bounced in. Just what she needed - luck.
Incredibly, Navratilova, perhaps the greatest server the women's game has ever seen, lost her last seven service games against the Graf machine.
Afterward, Martina could not have been a more gracious loser. She handled her post-match interview like a champion.
"I didn't succumb to the pressure (of her winning streak and record bid), I succumbed to a better player today," she said. "If I was going to lose, this is the way it should happen - in the final against a better player."
That player now needs only to win the U.S. Open in September to complete the first women's Grand Slam since Margaret Court's 18 years ago.
"Everyone's talking about it now," she said. "But I'm not going to change anything. I'm going to continue to concentrate just on the next tournament. When I come to Flushing Meadow, then I'll think about it."
In the meantime, she left the rest of women's tennis with something to think about
: "I can raise the level of my game still more."
The mind boggles.