by Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
The legendary Martina Navratilova, arguably the sport’s greatest ever player, won 11 titles at Eastbourne.
The naturalised American scooped a record-breaking 11 singles titles at Devonshire Park during an outstanding grass court career, which certainly helped boost her confidence going in to Wimbledon.
But Navratilova’s final appearance on the south coast of England was slightly soured in 2004, when the veteran was forced to qualify rather than be given a wildcard entry to the main draw.
Yet at 47 years of age, the sprightly American easily ousted Italy’s Mara Santangelo 6-4, 6-3. But rising Russian ace Elena Likhovtseva proved too hot to handle on a crowded Court No1, and dispatched the fans’ favourite 6-3, 6-2 in the second qualifying round.
Appreciating her limitations, Navratilova was tuning up for her very last shot at Wimbledon as a singles player. Yet at the Championships, the silky skills of the ex-Wimbledon winner shone through and Navratilova duly received a standing ovation for her emphatic demolition of Columbian youngster Catalina Castano 6-0, 6-1.
Round two at SW19 saw her tackle the much-hyped Argentinian pouting beauty Gisela Dulko, which resulted in one of the most memorable matches of Wimbledon 2004. But Navratilova bowed out graciously to fall 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the thriller.
Encouraged by her grass court game, the following year Navratilova opted to make one final tournament appearance on her favourite surface. But instead of competing at her favourite tournament at Devonshire Park, which had over the years became like a second home, Navratilova played in the grass court event in Holland.
In 2005 Navratilova would not play ball with the Eastbourne organisers, still upset after being forced to take part in their qualifying rounds for the first time in her career, so instead made her long overdue debut at the Ordina Open in s’Hertogenbosch.
Having not played on the circuit since her Wimbledon exit, Navratilova came close to winning her first match for virtually a year. She managed to edge the first set 6-4 against Claudine Schaul. But the little-known Luxembourg player stepped up a gear to overwhelm the 48-year-old 6-1 and a fascinating third set battle followed.
It proved to be a rollercoaster ride of emotions for the American, who succumbed 6-4 at the Ordina Open and subsequently retired from the sport for a second time.
“Navratilova would not play ball with the Eastbourne organisers, still upset after being forced to take part in the qualifying rounds at Devonshire Park for the first time.”
– Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd