AP Was There: Graf beats Navratilova at Wimbledon again

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1989 AP

FILE - In this July 5, 1989, file photo, defending champion Steffi Graf from Germany moves to return to Spain's Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario during their women's singles quarterfinal match on Wimbledon's Centre Court in London. Graf won the match to reach the semifinals of the tournament, where she will meet Chris Evert. (AP Photo/Dave Caulkin, File)

EDITOR’S NOTE — Tennis history is filled with wonderful rivalries, and so many are remembered because of matchups in Wimbledon finals. The Associated Press is republishing stories about a handful of such matches while the canceled grass-court Grand Slam tournament was supposed to be played. One memorable head-to-head rivalry was Steffi Graf vs. Martina Navratilova, who met in three consecutive Wimbledon finals from 1987-89. The following story, about their third title match there, was sent July 9, 1989.


AP Tennis Writer

Martina Navratilova lost and laughed. Steffi Graf won and cried.

It was hard to tell the victor from the vanquished Sunday after Graf again foiled Navratilova’s bid for the ultimate Wimbledon record.

Graf overpowered Navratilova in the final set to win her second straight women’s championship 6-2, 6-7, 6-1 on a history-making day at the All England Club.

After halting Navratilova’s try for a record ninth Wimbledon singles title for the second year in a row, Graf sat in her sideline chair on Centre Court, bowed her head and sobbed.

It was a highly unusual display of emotion for the 20-year-old West German, who came under fire for her icy reaction after sweeping the four Grand Slam titles last year. But after losing to teen-ager Arantxa Sanchez in the French Open final last month, Graf was determined to crush all challengers on Wimbledon’s grass courts.

“I wanted it so badly that I put a little more pressure on myself than usual,” Graf said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling.”

No one wanted another trophy more than Navratilova, who once again was stymied in her attempt to break a tie with Helen Wills Moody and become the all-time leader in Wimbledon singles crowns.

“Basically, I got served off the court,” Navratilova said. “I just couldn’t get the ball back in that last set.”

Boris Becker completed the first West German double at Wimbledon by routing Stefan Edberg 6-0, 7-6, 6-4 in the most lopsided men’s final since John McEnroe allowed Jimmy Connors only four games in 1984.

It was only the third time since the tournament moved to its present site in 1922 that both singles finals were held on the same day. The women’s championship was postponed a day by rain, making it the first one ever held on Sunday. It also was the first time in the modern era that the same women met in the finals three years in a row.

Last year, Navratilova won the first set and led 2-0 in the second before Graf won 12 of the last 13 games.

This time, Graf started strongly on a cool, cloudy day. But Navratilova rebounded after blowing a 5-2 lead in the second set and won the tiebreaker 7-1 when Graf netted a service return.

Navratilova was pumped up and sprinted to the sideline, anxious to start the third set. But Graf was ready, too.

Dominating with her speedy serve and laser-like forehand, Graf broke at love for a 3-1 lead when Navratilova missed three consecutive volleys. The West German went on to win the final three games, sealing the victory with her fifth ace.

By then, Graf was playing so well she was almost giddy.

“I had such a good feeling in the third set,” she said. “I had to tell myself, ‘Come on, concentrate’ so I wouldn’t start laughing.”

Surprisingly, Navratilova was the one laughing after pushing Graf to her longest match (92 minutes) of the tournament.

“Today was fun,” Navratilova said. “I enjoyed the hell out of it. I’m disappointed because I didn’t win, but I did everything I could in my preparation. It’s not like I wish I had done this or I had done that.”

Navratilova skipped the entire European clay-court season to concentrate on Wimbledon, and dropped only one set in 18 matches on English grass en route to the final. But the 32-year-old American couldn’t cope with the power and speed of Graf in their first official meeting since last year’s title match.

“I played a solid match, but I didn’t play great. And that’s what it would have taken to win,” Navratilova said.

Graf said her loss to Sanchez in Paris — only her second of the year and seventh in the last three years — served as an inspiration.

“I wanted to show I can do better,” Graf said. “I knew I could do it, but I had to prove it on the court.”

Just barely out of her teens, Graf has already won seven Grand Slam titles — the 1987 French Open, the 1989 Australian Open and all four major titles last year.

Navratilova hasn’t won a Grand Slam singles title since beating Graf at the 1987 U.S. Open, but felt she came close on Sunday.

“I had a chance,” Navratilova said. “I had the momentum after I won the tiebreaker, but then Steffi starting serving so well. I thought she played better than last year — much better.”

After losing the first set, Navratilova broke Graf in the second game of the second set and raced to a 3-0 lead with an ace. Graf came back to force the tiebreaker, but a combination of her errors and Navratilova winners evened the match.

Trailing 3-1 in the final set, Navratilova had one last chance to get back in the match. But she sent a backhand approach over the baseline on break point and netted two shots that allowed Graf to hold for 4-1.

“That was the right shot to come in on,” Navratilova said of the break point. “I just overhit it.”

Graf received $282,150 and the victor’s silver plate, which she held aloft for the cheering crowd at Centre Court. One fan who had shouted encouragement to Graf during the match got a close-up view of his hero when she walked over to the standing-room section and showed him the trophy.

“The guy was screaming after every point,” Graf said. “I just wanted to know who he was.”

Two doubles titles were also decided Sunday.

John Fitzgerald of Australia and Anders Jarryd of Sweden beat top-seeded Americans Rick Leach and Jim Pugh 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6 in the men’s final. Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova of Czechoslovakia downed the Soviet team of Larisa Savchenko and Natalia Zvereva 6-1, 6-2 for the women’s championship.