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At 48, she still plays for titles



Published: Wed, January 26, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Playing opponents half her age doesn't bother Martina Navratilova.

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Martina Navratilova exchanges high-fives with her partner after hitting a volley winner and groans when she slaps a shot wide.

She sure appears to be having a grand time. And it's tough to tell she's competing in a Grand Slam tournament or, from the way she plays, that she's 48.

"That's why I'm playing, to have fun," Navratilova said at the Australian Open. "Playing doubles is different. Expectations are much lower -- other than by me."

She always competes to win and owns 341 career singles and doubles titles, including 58 at majors.

Navratilova stopped playing singles in 1994 and didn't play at all from 1997-99. She could be having fun on the seniors circuit or doing TV commentary. Instead, she made a comeback in 2000, focusing on doubles. After saying last season would be her final one, Navratilova is back on court.

Defeated in quarterfinals

She reached the doubles quarterfinals at this year's opening major with Daniela Hantuchova before losing 6-3, 6-0 Tuesday to sixth-seeded Alicia Molik and Svetlana Kuznetsova, Navratilova's doubles partner in 2003.

Navratilova and Max Mirnyi will play Cara and Wayne Black in the mixed doubles quarterfinals.

What sort of age difference is there in the Navratilova-Hantuchova pairing? Hantuchova was born in 1983 -- when Navratilova went 86-1 and won three majors.

Navratilova came under some criticism for coming back in singles in a couple of tournaments, compiling a 2-5 record last year that included a first-round victory on her beloved grass at Wimbledon.

But she admits the hard courts are another matter.

"If I could play singles physically, I would," she said. "The hard courts are tough on your body."

She also dislikes hard courts for another reason: The serve-and-volley game that she used so well seems almost a lost art. That's why she admires top-ranked Roger Federer's all-around game.

"Today, the courts are slower, the rackets faster," Navratilova said.

"Federer is a great role model. But that style of play isn't encouraged. I'll ask some kid, 'Why don't you go to the net?' They say, 'My coach tells me not to.' "

Navratilova is thinking of starting an academy in Sarasota, Fla.

"I want to teach tennis the right way," she said.

In the meantime, she'll keep competing -- and having fun.




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