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Age no barrier, you?ve got to tune in

Martina Navratilova kept the media waiting for quite a while, but few complained. She flashed a huge smile when the media persons stood up and clapped.

india Updated: Jul 08, 2003 00:17 IST
S. Kannan

Martina Navratilova kept the media waiting for quite a while, but this was one day when few would have complained. The 46-year-old walked in with Leander Paes into the conference room well past 8.30pm on Sunday, and flashed a huge smile when the media persons stood up and clapped.

The Centre Court had cheered her effort some time back -- title No 20 at Wimbledon with Leander Paes as partner -- but to be backed by the media was different.

The whole fortnight it was A-Rod, Williams sisters, Roger Federer and company who had been grilled. Martina did not mind it.

She got her chance for the first major interaction at The Championships in a long time and spoke about almost everything under the sun.

The biggest point the 46-year-old American made was: "I am not playing for records. I did not return to competitive play three years back hoping to equal Billie Jean King's record of 20 Wimbledon titles. It's my love for the sport which keeps me going."

It's one thing to have an emotional Leander address the media. With Martina there for company as well, it went on and on. At one point, an official was asking the media persons to wind up as the radio stations were waiting. Well, Martina just brushed her away and said: "They can wait!"

To be sure, when Martina was trying to respond to the crowd on Centre Court the first words were "I think I can't talk". But this was the media room. In her career spanning 27 years, she must have addressed the media at least a thousand times and took them on with aplomb.

These days she refuses to do one-on-one requests. Whatever she talks is loud and clear, it's there for everyone to write.

"All the titles I won at Wimbledon are special but the last one was eight years ago and I honestly thought I'd never play here again," she said. Martina is not perturbed when scribes repeatedly ask her how she finds the motivation to continue at this age, what she eats and what's the routine. "I love tennis, this is something I enjoy and age is no barrier," said the champion.

Leander smiled. "When I went through tough times last year, I was wondering what would happen. But when I gelled with Martina and won the Austrlian Open mixed title, I said, Hey I am still young!"

The Indian magician continued. "I think I am a vehicle for Martina's greatness. I only wish I was older, I could have played a lot more with her," said Leander, his long hair neatly combed back after a shower.

It had been a tough day at office after two matches. Talking about how the two came together at Flushing Meadows last year, Martina opened up. "The best thing that happened to me was being dumped by my doubles partners and the same thing happened to Leander, and that's how we got together at the US Open last year and here we are," said Martina, who now has 58 Grand Slam titles to her credit.

"For this little kid from India it was a dream to be on Centre Court and when I was seven, eight years old, I watched Martina play. She really inspired me to be out here," said Leander, who feels he can go on with Martina as long as she wants to play.

"I don't know how long I am going to continue, but whether I come here and play, my association with Wimbledon will always be there," added Martina.

Leander was asked how popular Martina was in India, and he said, "Almost everyone knows her in towns and villages," he said. There lay the trap. "Leander, in that case should you not be taking Martina to India?" asked a scribe.

Martina had to answer. "1.2 billion people watching me, I would be nervous!" she said. Come on, she must have been joking.
How can someone like her talk of nerves --- she has seen it all as a teenager, an adult and now, at 46, Martina is still going strong.

First Published: Jul 07, 2003 23:43 IST