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Navratilova closes the door on singles comeback

| Thursday, June 20, 2002

EASTBOURNE, England — Martina Navratilova's short-lived return to singles is over, but not before she showed she can still compete with players nearly half her age.

The 45-year-old Navratilova lost, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, to third-seeded Daniela Hantuchova — a player 26 years younger — at the Eastbourne grasscourt championships Wednesday.

On Tuesday, playing her first tour singles match in eight years, Navratilova beat Tatiana Panova, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, becoming the oldest woman to win a WTA match.

"I've always taken it one year at a time, and I don't know if I'm even playing next year," Navratilova said after her loss. "But I have no plans to play singles again. This really was a one-off.

"It was fun, and I think that I showed I had a good time out there and I played some good tennis. I think that I showed that I can keep pace and stay with these girls. I won a match and lost a three-setter to a player ranked 13."

Navratilova said she hopes the crowd enjoyed seeing her back on center court.

"I've had my run and this is just a bonus for me," she said. "I think a lot of people enjoy watching this kind of tennis. I just hope I inspired some people to do some things that perhaps they wouldn't be thinking about doing."

One person who wasn't pleased to see Navratilova get top billing was top-seeded Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, who was shunted to a side court and lost, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2, to Daja Bedanova of the Czech Republic.

Dokic, who won the Birmingham title Sunday and was a Wimbledon semifinalist in 2000, yelled at officials following her defeat.

"You would think that the No. 1 seed would play on center court, but there's some ridiculous match out there instead," she said, nodding her head in the direction of center court where Navratilova had played. "When I left the site last night, I thought I would be playing on center, but they changed it."

Hantuchova appeared nervous as she faced Navratilova, who acts as her mentor on the WTA Tour, and quickly lost the first four games while serving four double-faults.

In the final set, Hantuchova broke to lead 3-1 when Navratilova served her sixth double-fault and broke again to go up 5-1. Despite failing to convert three match points on her serve, Hantuchova closed out the match in the next game with another break.

"I think my serve wasn't cooking," Navratilova said. "It never was."

Earlier, Luxembourg's Anne Kremer upset second-seeded Sandrine Testud 4-6, 6-3, 6-1. Testud has just one victory — in 1992 — in four visits to Eastbourne.

Fifth-seeded American Meghann Shaughnessy defeated Italian Rita Grande 6-4, 6-2, and No. 6 Iroda Tulyaganova was forced to retire when trailing American qualifier Amy Frazier 6-5 after falling and injuring her knee.

Anastasia Myskina of Russia, who lost to Dokic in the Birmingham final, beat Japan's Ai Sugiyama 7-5, 7-6 (3).

OFF THE FIELD

  • Morris Berman, whose photograph of a bloodied Y.A. Tittle kneeling in the end zone ranks among the most famous images in sports history, has died. He was 92. Berman died Sunday in suburban Sun City, Ariz., of congestive heart failure, said Randi Braford, his step-daughter. Berman also served as an Army photographer in World War II. His best known work in the Army were images of the corpses of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's and his mistress, Gordon said. While working for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1964, he took the photo of the New York Giants' quarterback in the end zone after he was sacked by John Baker of the Pittsburgh Steelers. It turned out to be the last game of Tittle's career. "His photo editor wouldn't run the picture in the newspaper because it didn't have any action in it," said Greg Garneau, executive director of the National Press Photographers Association. The photograph was subsequently published and became a sports icon, Garneau said.

    HOCKEY

  • State economic officials plan to meet with businessman Mark Hamister to discuss the future of the NHL's financially troubled Buffalo Sabres, a spokesman for the state said. Michael Marr, spokesman for the Empire State Development Corporation, said a meeting was being scheduled but he did not have a time. A spokesman for Gov. George Pataki said keeping the Sabres in Buffalo was vital. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is to update the league's board of governors today in Toronto on the Sabres' status. The team has been in limbo for the past two months because of the financial problems of owner John Rigas, whose fortune was tied to the debt-ridden Adelphia Communications Corp., the nation's sixth-largest cable company. Rigas operated the Sabres separately from Adelphia but used company money toward the purchase of the team. The Sabres reportedly owe Adelphia as much as $150 million, making it the team's largest creditor.

    WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

  • Former WNBA All-Star Brandy Reed, who was suspended indefinitely by the Phoenix Mercury on Tuesday, faces misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession in Mississippi. Reed, 25, was arrested in Hattiesburg, Miss., on April 5 and was cited on suspicion of marijuana possession, The Arizona Republic reported Wednesday. She failed to appear for a court date April 16.

    PRO FOOTBALL

  • The Green Bay Packers signed free agent running back Ki-Jana Carter as part of their effort to find a backup to Ahman Green. The No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft, Carter's six-year career has been marred by injuries. He spent his entire rookie season with the Cincinnati Bengals on the injured list after tearing a knee ligament in the preseason.

    PRO BASKETBALL

  • Yao Ming would be able to play the entire NBA season and playoffs if the Houston Rockets pick the 7-foot-5 Chinese center in the upcoming draft, team attorney Michael Goldberg said. "We also assured them that he'd be able to play in the Olympics," Goldberg said as he arrived home from negotiations with Chinese basketball officials in Beijing. The Rockets want to take Yao with the first pick of the NBA draft on June 26, but they had been seeking assurances that he would not be recalled during the season to play on China's national team. The Chinese wanted to be sure their best known player would be able to play for them in international competition.

    COLLEGE FOOTBALL

  • Indiana fullback Jeremi Johnson, the Hoosiers' top returning rusher, will not play his senior season in Bloomington but has not yet been released to transfer to another school. Johnson rushed 95 times for 546 yards and seven touchdowns last season and had the second-highest rushing average, 5.7 yards. He finished third in rushing touchdowns, behind Levron Williams' 17 and Antwaan Randle-El's eight. "I guess he'll transfer, if he gets his release," new coach Gerry DiNardo saidy. "You know you can't just leave a place."

    PRO FOOTBALL

  • Cleveland Browns linebacker Earl Holmes had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee but should be ready for the start of training camp on July 26, the team said. Holmes signed a five-year contract with Cleveland in April after playing his first six seasons with Pittsburgh. He led the Steelers in tackles in each of the past three seasons.

    WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

  • The Detroit Shock named former Pistons center Bill Laimbeer as its new coach, a day after the WNBA team lost its 10th consecutive game to start the season. Laimbeer replaces Greg Williams, who was fired earlier yesterday after the team got off to the worst start in its six-year history. The four-time NBA All-Star was previously working as a special consultant to the Shock. He agreed to a multiyear contract as coach. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

    TENNIS

  • Marat Safin beat American Scott Humphries, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-3, in the Liverpool International to virtually seal his place in the semifinals of the round-robin exhibition.

    HOCKEY

  • The Minnesota Wild were awarded two compensation picks in this weekend's NHL amateur draft. The Wild, who have the eighth pick Saturday in Toronto, gained a third-round pick — 73rd overall — for releasing forward Zdeno Ciger last summer so he could become an unrestricted free agent. Minnesota also picked up a fifth-round pick — 155th overall — in return for the trade that sent Scott Pellerin to Carolina in March 2001.

    TENNIS

  • Roger Federer of Switzerland advanced to the third round of the Ordina Open after Ivo Heuberger retired with an injury after losing the first set 6-4. Sjeng Schalken, the No. 6 seed, struggled through a back injury to beat Belgium's Christophe Rochus, 4-6, 7-6 (1), 6-3. In the women's singles, No. 3 seed Amelie Mauresmo of France advanced to the quarterfinals by routing unseeded Slovakian Katarina Srebotnik, 6-2, 6-1. Bulgarian Magdalena Maleeva, the No. 5 seed, ended Miriam Oremans' final WTA grass court event 7-6 (4), 7-5.

    PRO FOOTBALL

  • The New York Jets signed defensive end Bryan Thomas, their first-round draft pick. Thomas was the 22nd player chosen in April's NFL draft and the third defensive end selected, following the Carolina Panthers' Julius Peppers and the Indianapolis Colts' Dwight Freeney. Thomas was a four-year starter at the University of Alabama-Birmingham and set a Conference USA record with 35 career sacks.

    TENNIS

  • Lindsay Davenport, who has missed all of this season with a knee injury, will return to action in a Fed Cup qualifying series against Israel next month. Also chosen for the U.S. squad by captain Billie Jean King were fourth-ranked Monica Seles, top-ranked doubles player Lisa Raymond and Meghann Shaughnessy. The United States will play Israel on hardcourts in Springfield, Mo., July 20-21, for the chance to rejoin the Fed Cup world group next year.

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