All-time greats show fire still there

The woman who brought the grunt to women’s tennis appears to have piped down a little bit vocally but Monica Seles showed in Auckland last night she still possesses plenty of power with the racket.

Seles unleashed several ground shots in the first of two exhibition matches against legend Martina Navratilova which left the crowd reeling.

The two were greeted by thunderous applause as they made their way to centre court. With 58 Grand Slam titles Navratilova, now 48, is regarded as one of the most phenomenal athletes of all time, male or female.

Last night she showed no signs of slowing down. Still effective at the net Navratilova captivated the crowd with her almost effortless volleys.

Although she was out to win, Navratilova, who says she relishes visiting new countries, shared the odd joke with the sell-out crowd and at one stage even tried to haul the ball boy onto court.

For Seles the match was significant in that it could mark a return to the world circuit.

The 31-year-old, who has nine Grand Slam titles, has been plagued by a foot injury for well over a year and had hinted she would use the match to gauge her fitness.

And she looked pretty good once she got going.

“I was really nervous in the beginning,” Seles said. “But once a few balls got hit out there I got a little bit comfortable … I am very happy that I played solid tennis and my body held up.

“As you can see the way she covers the court is truly amazing,” Seles said of Navratilova. “I just hope I can hit a ball like that at her age.”

Navratilova emerged the victor 6-4, 6-4 in a little over an hour.

She said the match was over “too fast” but knew Seles would “be out for blood” tomorrow night. “I’ll have to bring some serious body armour for that one. It is a good thing it is just a tennis ball she hits.”

The visit is Seles’ first to New Zealand and she said she would consider venturing back next year for the ASB Classic.

“If I am healthy and I am at a level where I can compete with the girls … definitely.”

Navratilova will continue playing but has other plans as well.

“I’d like to start an academy for kids because I don’t feel the game is being taught properly or as well as it could be.

“Everyone has great ground shots but there are not really good all round players, like Roger Federer. There is a gap I think I can fill.”