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Charlotte Observer
Sunday, 23-Sep-01 08:08:01.

Venus on a Different Level, Says Navratilova
By Alastair Himmer

TOKYO (Reuters) - Former world No. 1 Martina Navratilova says she would have been a match for any of today's top women, with the possible exception of Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Venus Williams.

``I think at my best I would stack up pretty well against anybody at their best. But Venus is so big and she isn't at her best yet,'' Navratilova, who is currently enjoying a comeback as a doubles player, said Sunday.

However, the 44-year-old Navratilova, who competed at this week's Toyota Princess Cup in Tokyo with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, complained that the modern game is too one-dimensional with the emphasis on big serving and power from the back of the court.

``Today's players are better hitters, but the variety has gone down. Everyone stays on the baseline. It would be weird for me to do that, even on clay,'' she told Reuters.

The Prague-born American, who won 167 singles titles -- more than any man or woman in the history of tennis -- between 1975 and 1994, claimed that the result would have been hard to call if she had ever faced Williams at the peak of her powers in the 1980s.

``My lefty serve would have given her fits and my variety would have been pretty good against her. But Venus has the wingspan of a condor. It's unbelievable,'' said Navratilova, who won 18 grand slam singles titles on the back of an aggressive serve-and-volley game.

The nine-time Wimbledon champion had some words of advice for current world No. 1 Martina Hingis, who has failed to win a grand slam since the 1999 Australian Open.


``Take away the serve and Hingis wins because she doesn't miss. But she needs to improve her serve. The big hitters win too many free points on their serve -- she wins hardly any,'' said Navratilova.

``She used to have to beat one big hitter but now there are too many of them. Their average game beats her average game. Their great game beats her great game.''

Of her own prospects, Navratilova believes she is very close to winning her 166th career doubles title following her return to the tour at last year's Wimbledon.

Her visit to Tokyo, however, ended in a disappointing defeat to unseeded Janet Lee and Rachel McQuillan at the quarter-final stage.

`We beat (Lisa) Raymond and (Rennae) Stubbs in Toronto (in August) and they're the No. 1 team in the world. I know we can beat anybody, but we've lost to teams we should've beaten,'' said Navratilova, who will continue to play with Sanchez-Vicario until the end of the year.
Still questioning line calls and pumping her fists during matches, Navratilova insists she is still deadly serious about her tennis.

``I'm not doing this to bask in the limelight. When I walked away, I didn't really need to hit another tennis ball the rest of my life,'' she said. ``But when you're around it you want it. The passion never goes away.''

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