By BILL BUELL
The winner of 167 professional titles, more than any man or woman in the history of the game, Navratilova teamed up with South African Brent Haygarth to rally the Schenectady County Electrics to a 21-20 World TeamTennis victory over the previously unbeaten Hartford FoxForce before 1,600 fans at Central Park.
Navratilova's forehand return winner of Liezel Horn's second serve fought off a match point for the FoxForce and helped the Electrics win the fifth set of mixed doubles in a tiebreaker, 5-4. That tied the score at 20-20 and forced a supertiebreaker where Navratilova and Haygarth took control early and rolled to a 7-3 win over Horn and James Blake to win the match.
"I'm glad we got to the supertiebreaker, because Liezel was playing unbelievable," said Navratilova. "This was only my second time hitting on hardcourts, and we didn't have a lot of time to warm up, so I didn't have the time to feel sharp. But it was great. It was back and forth, but the home team won, so everybody's happy."
With Horn serving in the fifth set tiebreaker at 4-4, Hartford had a set point and a match point, while the Electrics had a set point to get into a supertiebreaker. Navratilova listened to the advice of Haygarth and decided on a crosscourt return after Horn faulted on her first serve.
"He knows the guys better than I do," Navratilova said of Haygarth, who figured Blake wouldn't be poaching on Horn's second serve. "He said to go crosscourt which took the pressure off of me. I had a target, and I didn't have to second-guess myself. She kind of jammed me with the serve, but I still hit it pretty good."
Haygarth and Navratilova both came up with some superb shots to take control of the supertiebreaker and close out the match, improving Schenectady's record to 2-3. The loss was the first of the year for the Foxforce, who had Monica Seles on the roster for three of their five victories. They still lead the WTT's Eastern Conference, but without Seles in the lineup, they're a different team.
"They hadn't lost yet, but they don't have Monica anymore," said Haygarth, who teamed up with Michael Hill to defeat Blake and Murphy Jensen in men's doubles, 5-4 (5-1), in the first set of the night. "I think they wanted to keep on winning."
When Haygarth and Navratilova fell behind in the final set of mixed doubles, 3-1, it looked as though Hartford was well on its way to a 6-0 record. Haygarth, however, wasn't about to go down easy playing with the woman many people call the best tennis player ever.
"You always wonder what it would be like," Haygarth said of his opportunity to play with Navratilova. "Well, it was as good as I could have thought it would be."
The match began nearly an hour later than its scheduled 7 p.m. start due to an afternoon rainstorm. After the Electrics won the men's doubles, Blake, the 1999 NCAA singles runner-up from Harvard, defeated the Electrics' Hill in men's singles, 5-2, to give the FoxForce a 9-7 advantage.
At that point, Navratilova took the court for the first time and teamed up with Nannie DeVilliers to win the women's doubles over Horn and 15-year-old Bethanie Mattek, 5-2, giving the lead back to Schenectady, 12-11.
In women's singles, DeVilliers took a 3-1 lead over Mattek before Hartford coach Paul Assaiante put Horn in the lineup. Horn won five consecutive games against her fellow South African to win the set, 5-3, and give the lead back to the FoxForce, 16-15.
Schenectady 21, Hartford 20 (ST) Men's doubles: Michael
Hill-Brent Haygarth (S) def. James Blake-Murphy Jensen, 5-4 (5-1);
men's singles: Blake (H) def. Hill, 5-2; women's doubles:
Martina Navratilova-Nannie DeVilliers (S) def. Bethanie
Mattek-Liezel Horn, 5-2; women's singles: Horn (H) def.
DeVilliers, 5-3; mixed doubles: Navratilova-Haygarth (S) def.
Blake-Horn, 5-4 (5-4). Supertiebreaker: Navratilova-Haygarth (S) def.
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