Martinez's Victory but Martina's Victory Lap

WIMBLEDON, England -- There were tears, of course. A forgotten curtsy to the Duchess of Kent. A victory lap around Center Court for someone who lost. There was a lone British voice from the crowd shouting -- no, pleading, "How 'bout next year, Martina?" But there will be no return. Martina Navratilova, her storybook career forced to do without a happy ending Saturday, could only smile sadly, shake her head and then blow a kiss toward the voice. The Wimbledon championship that Navratilova craved, the silver salver that she had hoped to hold above her head at match's end, now belongs to Conchita Martinez, who won, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. It happened on a grayish, muggy afternoon that drew royalty -- Princess Diana at court's edge, Navratilova at court's center -- to the still air of the All England Lawn Tennis Club. And while the audience saw its share of sloppy tennis -- five double faults and 13 broken serves -- it also saw Navratilova, 37, prowling the net like the old days and Martinez whacking backhand winners with numbing regularity. Then came set point. Navratilova's final backhand of her 22 years at Wimbledon landed wide of the line and that was that. The reign of Spain had begun, the reign of Martina had ended. Not that it mattered Saturday. After all, it might have been Martinez's tournament, but it was Navratilova's moment. When Navratilova strode across the green carpet to accept her runner-up plaque from the duchess, the crowd stood and applauded for two full minutes. It was the least it could do. The No. 4-seeded Navratilova looked at the small plate -- much too small, remarked someone later, for a player of her stature -- as if it would make a swell doorstop, then blew more kisses to the appreciative audience. Standing nearby was Martinez, clapping as well. Later there was a slow walk around Center Court and a moment spent retrieving a bouquet of flowers tossed at her feet. It was a farewell rarely seen here. Bluebloods and commoners alike dabbing their eyes with hankies. The applause caroming from green wall to green wall. Even the duchess herself was moved to gentle persuasion. Standing there with Navratilova, who has announced her retirement at season's end, the duchess asked if a 1995 Wimbledon playing appearance might not be in order after all. Navratilova offered a polite no, but did say she might come for a visit. "Then we'll definitely have tea," said the duchess. Tea, but no tennis. It will have to do. So heavy-hearted was the occasion that William Crowe, the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, shook Navratilova's hand -- and began to cry. "What are you crying for?" Navratilova said. Navratilova knew the answer. You don't reach the finals of Wimbledon 12 times, win the tournament nine times and flirt with middle age and a 10th title without tugging at a few heartstrings, including your own. "I'm not crying because I lost," she said, "I'm just crying because it's over." So it is, but not without a fight. At times it was vintage Navratilova, at other times the play of a 37-year-old with a case of bad nerves. As usual, Navratilova charged the net and put 22 of 34 shots away for points. But she also struggled scoring points with her serve, double faulted away two of those three crucial games in the third set and had no answer for Martinez's powerful backhand passing shots.