Navratilova gracing T.O. with her presence

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:57 AM ET

Something old, something new.

Though usually reserved for weddings, one might also characterize in the same way this year's Rogers Canadian Open Championship.

Two years ago, Martina Navratilova, at age 47, partnered with Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the Canadian Open women's doubles championship.

No other player of Martina's age -- male or female -- ever won a title in a prestigious international tennis tournament. Next August, two months short of her 49th birthday, Navratilova will be at Toronto's new Rexall Centre, playing women's doubles in the same tournament she and Kuznetsova won two years ago.

To those who have not followed the Czech-American's meteoric career, let me emphasize that, in my opinion, Martina is the greatest female tennis player. The left-hander brought physical fitness to women's tennis, along with superb conditioning and, with her attacking style, she restructured women's tennis the way Bobby Orr restructured the play of a defenceman in hockey.

Sure, I'll get arguments from those who favour Germany's Steffi Graf, Margaret Court Smith of Australia, Billie Jean King, Monica Seles, Chris Evert, the Williams sisters of the United States or the Belgian tandem of Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters.

But let's look at Navratilova's record. The once chubby, Prague-born youngster who came to the US at age 16, played one of her first tournaments at the Toronto Lawn Tennis Club. Martina has won 18 major singles tournaments, including a record nine Wimbledon crowns.

In total, she has won 20 Wimbledon championships spread throughout singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles, equalling the record held by Billie Jean King. Navratilova's amazing overall winning streak included 167 singles and 174 doubles titles.

"I credit my genes, hard work and my strict diet for my success in tennis," Martina said. "You get out of your body only what you put into it."

Navratilova is an outspoken defender of her sexual preference, a proud American and, above all, a very charitable individual. I remember well asking her during a Toronto tournament play a few years ago if she would sign a few autographs for children from Variety Village. It was about 45 minutes before her next match, but she sat down on the grass of the old York University Tennis Centre with about 20 kids, shared a sandwich with them and donated each of them a personal T-shirt.

Then she got up and won her tennis match.

Martina won't be the only celebrity at the Rexall Centre next August.

"So far, several of the world's top women's players have agreed to participate," said tournament director Stacey Allaster, who has been with Tennis Canada for 15 years, four as tournament director. She succeeded John Beddington and Jane Wynne in that portfolio.

"We'll have teen sensation and Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova of Russia, Belgium's Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters, Serena and Venus Williams of the US, France's Amelie Mauresmo and Mary Pierce among many others."

Is a tournament director nervous before such an event?

"Let me put it this way," Allaster said. "From now on, I won't be watching tennis on television for fear that one of those stars might get hurt."

Does she has a favourite player among the stars?

She thought for a moment, then said in a quiet voice: "Martina Navratilova."

Stacey is not alone thinking that way.

GROSSLYABBREVIATED

Foolish decisions by some of the owners have caused the CFL to flounder many times. Finally, they found a no-nonsense commissioner in Tom Wright, the former president of adidas Canada. Do the owner(s) who leaked adverse comments to some media members about Wright not realize the stability he has brought to the league? Also, do they think a leading German company such as adidas would have kept Wright as Canadian president for a number of years if he hadn't been a good executive? Humbug.


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