Navratilova makes lasting impression

Electrics defeat Hartford

Gazette Sportswriter

SCHENECTADY - Steffi Graf has always been Bethanie Mattek's idol, but when the 15-year-old saw Martina Navratilova taking the court against her Thursday night at Central Park, she admitted it was quite a thrill.

"I saw Martina walking out there and I said, 'Oh no,'" Mattek said with a smile. "I've got to do something."

Mattek, a member of the Hartford FoxForce, played some good tennis, but it wasn't enough as Navratilova posted a 5-3 win in women's singles, sparking the Schenectady County Electrics to a 21-14 win.

Despite the win, Schenectady's chances at an Eastern Conference title were doused when the Delaware Smash posted a 25-15 win over the New Hamptons Thursday night in Wilmington. The Electrics, now 6-5, can do no better than tie the 9-3 Smash by the end of the regular season, but even if that happens, Delaware wins the title by virtue of its 3-0 sweep of Schenectady in the season series.

Thursday night's contest was also Schenectady's final home match of the season, and the 1,100 fans who showed up were treated to three splendid sets of tennis from Navratilova.

She began the night by teaming with Nannie DeVilliers to win the women's doubles set, 5-2, over Mattek and Liezel Horn, defeated Mattek in singles, and then paired up with Brent Haygarth to beat Horn and James Blake in the mixed doubles, 5-2, giving Schenectady a 15-7 lead.

Navratilova hadn't played a WTT match since July 18, but she looked prepared Thursday night against the FoxForce.

"I practiced Monday and Tuesday, and then I did some other things, like play soccer, basketball, a little golf," she said. "I shot a 40 and didn't make a putt over five feet."

The winner of 167 singles titles on the pro tour, Navratilova surprised and delighted the crowd when, after completing the women's doubles, she remained on the court to play singles. In her previous appearance in Schenectady, she only played the women's doubles and mixed doubles.

"I was a little nervous playing singles, but I wanted to play," said Navratilova. "I did OK, but my serve stunk. It was my toss. If I got my first serve in I won the majority of the points."

Mattek, who only turned 15 in March, but turned professional last spring, was caught off guard when it was Navratilova, not DeVilliers, staring at her across the net.

"The last time we played them, DeVilliers played singles, so I was expecting to play her," said Mattek. "But playing Martina was a great experience for me. I was nervous, but it was also fun. She doesn't give you much pace, and she slices the ball a lot. I thought I played pretty well, but she's a tough player."

Signed to a contract by IMG last year, Mattek will be a sophomore at Boca Raton Christian School in Florida in the Fall. She has played two professional tournaments this summer, and has lost in the qualifying of both.

"She's got good legs, a good forehand, and she plays the points right," Navratilova said of Mattek, who was born in Minnesota and moved to Wisconsin before relocating in Boca Raton two years ago. "She could be a good player."

While Mattek's career is ahead of her, Navratilova said this WTT season could be the end of the road for her.

"I have no idea, but this could be it for me," she said. "I really don't know if I'll play anymore tennis."

Navratilova will play tonight in Hartford for the Electrics, who finish the season Saturday and Sunday at the New York Hamptons.
Schenectady 21, Hartford 14 Women's doubles: Martina Navratilova-Nannie DeVilliers (S) def. Bethanie Mattek-Liezel Horn, 5-2; women's singles: Navratilova (S) def. Mattek, 5-3; mixed doubles: Navratilova-Brent Haygarth (S) def. Horn-James Blake, 5-2; men's singles: Blake (H) def. Michael Hill, 5-1; men's doubles: Hill-Haygarth (S) def. Blake-Doug Bohaboy, 5-2.
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