On this day 33 years ago, a Czech teenager, Helena Sukova, ended World No. 1 Martina Navratilova’s 74-match winning streak during the semifinal round of the $1.28 million Australian Open at the Melbourne suburban Kooyong.
The ninth-seed Sukova, daughter of the former Wimbledon finalist Vera Sukova, subdued Navratilova in a three-set upset, 1-6, 6-3, 7-5, on December 6, 1984 that not only broke the longest consecutive victory run on the world’s women circuit history, but, likewise, denied Martina’s bid to end the year with 100th championship expecting victories at Wimbledon, French, the U.S. and Australian Opens.
The record began in the U.S. Indoor Championships. Navratilova finished the season with 78 victories in 80 matches that year though. That wasn’t the only streak Martina had fashioned out during that stretch. From 1983 to 1985, she teamed with Pam Shriver to set a 109-match winning doubles skein.
The win sent Sukova to the final showdown with Chris Evert Lloyd, who defeated Wendy Turnbull, 6‚3, 6‚3. Mrs. Lloyd, whose 10-year-old record of 55 straight victories was shattered by Miss Navratilova that year, was eyeing to maintain a record of having won at least one Grand Slam every year since 1973.
“How important is anything?” the then 28-year-old left-hander Martina queried after her loss. “It hurts, but I’ll get over it. I still have two arms, two legs and a heart. If I’d have won, I’d have done it all,” she said. “If I lost I had to start from scratch. Both are hard to cope with.”
“I certainly didn’t play my best, but I did my best on the day. I know I’m the better player, but today she was the better player,” she graciously added. Entering the semifinals, Navratilova had a perfect 3‚0 advantage over Sukova in their personal one-on-one previous matches.
Before Martina’s 1984, undefeated 74-game run, it was Steffi Graf who had her own show from 1988-89, winning five Grand Slam titles on the trot. Her winning streak of 66 matches ran from June 1989 to May the following year, eventually ended by the uncompromising Monica Seles in Germany.
Before that, there was Margaret Court, the Australian and former world No.1 went on a rampage from 1972-73, winning three out of four Grand Slams while engaging in a 57-match long winning streak. Even more astoundingly, she accomplished this just months after returning to the tour after the birth of her first child.
Martina herself had joined the streak race, contributing three out of the six most impressive. Three years after a run of 54 wins from 1983-84, she went four matches better, beating her own record with a 58-match long streak.
Then came Evert, who besides owning the record for the highest winning percentage in WTA history, she held, too, the fifth most remarkable winning streak among the women. In 1974 she won 55 matches on the bounce — a record that stood for ten years before Navratilova broke it in 1984.
Newspaper accounts had it that there showed no inkling of Navratilova’ s losing cause against Sukova as she breezed through the first set and appeared in command until the young Czech began to return and pass brilliantly and put the left-hander under tremendous pressure.
The teenager took the second set and then raced to a 3‚0 lead in the third. Miss Navratilova fought back to 4‚4, but Sukova broke her serve again in the 11th game. Miss Navratilova saved 5 match points in the 12th game before Miss Sukova prevailed.
An 18-yeaer-old Martina Navratilova, also from Czechoslovakia, defected to the U.S. in 1975. Three years later, saw her in the Wimbledon finals against the reigning queen of tennis, Chris Evert.
The experts waited for the ingénue to wilt beneath Evert’s barrage of ground strokes, but it was Navratilova who proved the more durable in a 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 triumph and her first major title. The two would have to meet in classic matches again … and … again … and again in the course of their careers.