Monday, October 20, 2008

Martina Wins at Innisbrook, 10/16/83

In 1983, Martina Navratilova had one of the greatest single seasons in any sport. That year, she dominated women's tennis with an astonishing record of 86-1, winning 16 of 17 tournaments.

Near the end of that record season, Navratilova played at the Florida Federal Tennis Open, seeking her second tournament championship there in three years. The tournament was from Oct. 10-16, 1983, and held for the first time at the Innisbrook Resort in Tarpon Springs after seven years at East Lake Woodlands in Oldsmar.

While singer Bonnie Tyler owned the October airwaves with her hit "Total Eclipse of the Heart," Navratilova totally eclipsed all others in her sport. To say she arrived in the Tampa Bay area on a roll is an understatement.

Navratilova entered the tournament having won 67 of 68 matches and capturing every tournament she entered except the French Open, where she lost in the fourth round to Kathy Horvath. The Florida Federal was her first tournament since early September, when she won the U.S. Open for the first time, finally completing her Grand Slam resume.

Navratilova had such an air of invincibility that many opponents admitted nobody on the tour could even challenge her. She didn't seem to disagree, saying, "If I don't beat myself, I don't think anyone else can beat me."

Prior to the U.S. Open final against Chris Evert, Pam Shriver said, "Chris is the only one who hasn't conceded to Martina's invincibility. If she gets blown out (in the final), all hope is gone." Navratilova routed Evert, 6-1, 6-3.

Winning the U.S. Open was a career turning-point for Navratilova, who finally shed the stigma of never winning in New York. "There was no monkey on my back," she said. "It was an orangutan."

Navratilova's week in Florida got off to a slow start, however, as her first round match against Peanut Louie was delayed by rain. The postponement was the tournament's first since a quarterfinal match in 1980 featuring Tracy Austin. In this case, the delay must have only served to make Louie feel like a prisoner on death row awaiting a stay of execution that would never come.

Navratilova toyed with Louie in a 6-1, 6-1 blowout that took only 43 minutes. Most cruelly of all, Navratilova decided to unleash her newest weapon – a kick serve -- against the severely overmatched Louie. "It's like a pitcher with new pitch," Navratilova said.

Her next opponent was Wendy White, who had made her mark as a collegiate champion at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. White played admirably and fared significantly better than Louie, keeping Navratilova on the court for 85 minutes. Along the way, she managed to register three service breaks in a 6-3, 6-2 loss. After the match, Navratilova praised her opponents' performance. "

That's one of the best matches anyone's played against me in a long time," she said.

Another rain delay postponed Navratilova's quarterfinal match against Bonnie Gadusek by a day. The seventh-seeded Gadusek -- a resident of nearby Largo -- put up a strong fight early, battling to even up the score at 5-5 in the first set by applying pressure on Navratilova.

She had a plan and she knew what she wanted to do," Navratilova said. "She came in (to the net) when I didn't expect her to."

As expected, however, Navratilova regained control, winning the first set 7-5, and put away the match, 6-3, in the second set.

Yet another rain delay forced Navratilova into double-duty Saturday with a semifinal showdown against Zina Garrison. Showing no signs of fatigue, she easily handled Garrison, 6-3, 6-2. Waiting for her in the finals was friend and doubles partner Pam Shriver, who had lost 16 of 19 career matches against Navratilova.

Despite their close relationship, Shriver struggled to find an edge against her opponent. Her strategy featured a serve-and-volley attack, which seemed to play into Navratilova's hands. Taking advantage of the slow clay surface, Navratilova had ample time to send top-spin backhand winners past the charging Shriver. Her service game didn't fare much better in the second set, as she dropped all but one point over the course of four service games.

Shriver's best move of the day came after the 6-3, 6-2 defeat, when she jokingly dumped ice cubes down the back of Navratilova's shirt during the trophy presentation. Fittingly, the friends teamed up later in the day to win the doubles title with a 6-0, 6-1 pasting of Gadusek and White to wrap up the tournament.

These titles would be Navratilova's last at the Florida Federal Open, as 1983 marked the final appearance of her Hall of Fame career at the tournament.

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