Martina Navratilova’s last chance saloon to bag an 11th Eastbourne Singles crown ended at the hands of Slovakia’s Daniela Hantuchova.
The 45-year-old ran out of steam to the rising star, bowing out graciously on Centre Court 2-6 6-2 6-2 and finally waving a fond farewell to a venue that had seen her become the most ever popular player to compete at Devonshire Park.
The nine-times Wimbledon singles champion took the first set, racing away with the first four games, but slipped up in the second set after trailing 4-0 to the up-and-coming 19-year-old.
With Navratilova being cleverly forced into long rallies by the impressive Hantuchova, the veteran was unable to recreate her previous day’s form and twice dropped her service game in the final set.
Those breaks proved costly with the Slovak teenager cruising past her illustrious opponent, an 11-time winner at Eastbourne, to reach the quarter-finals.
And Hantuchova, the #3 seed, is the highest ranked player remaining in the draw after Australian/Yugoslavian top seed Jelena Dokic and France’s #2 seed Sandrine Testud fell to shock defeats.
Navratilova, who only requested a late wildcard after losing a bet with her trainer Giselle Tirado, failed in her bid for her first back-to-back wins on the circuit in almost eight years and failed to impress a handful of the current crop of players.
Dokic, whose clash against Czech Republic’s Daja Bedanova was relegated from Centre Court, fumed: “You would think that the No.1 seed would play on Centre Court here today, but there was some ridiculous match (Hantuchova against Navratilova) match out there instead.
“I thought I’d be playing there on Centre Court, but they changed it.”
And Bedanova blasted past the #1 seed in a topsy-turvy tie 6-4 1-6 6-2.
Navratilova laughed off Dokic’s outburst and admitted: “I understand that there were a bunch of players who were happy I was playing, and there are others who were not so happy.
“I remember playing matches on Court #4 and Court #5 at Wimbledon when I was ranked as world #1 and defending champion, so I’m not going to take it personally.”
Having tasted success in her first Singles match in almost eight years, the 45-year-old
Navratilova, who overcame Russia’s Tatiana Panova 6-1 4-6 6-2 to kick off her Eastbourne campaign, tasted defeat on the WTA Tour for probably the last time.
Argentina’s Gabriela Sabatini was the last player to inflict a Singles defeat on the American ace back in 1994, with Hantuchova etching her name into the history books with her success – which on the evidence of her performances at Devonshire Park are likely to be just the start of a promising career.