- 20 Feb 2021
What happened exactly on that day
On this day, February 20, 1994, in Paris, Martina Navratilova won the 167th and last tournament of her amazing career. In the final of the Paris Indoors, the 37-year-old defeated Julie Halard 7-5, 6-3, with the support of the local crowd, even though her opponent was French. The former world No 1 had already announced that 1994 was going to be her last year on the Tour.
Martina Navratilova, born in 1956, was, according to Billie Jean King, “the greatest singles, doubles, and mixed doubles player who ever lived,”. Since 1968 when the Open Era began, no male or female player has won more singles tournaments than Navratilova (167), doubles events (177), or matches (2,189). Left-handed, she played serve and volley like no one before. According to her rival Chris Evert, she took fitness to a new level in women’s tennis, introducing the idea of cross-training, playing other sports such as basketball in order to improve her physical condition. Navratilova had claimed a total of 18 Grand Slam titles in singles, with a record of nine Wimbledon crowns, including six successively between 1982 and 1987. In 1994, she had already accumulated 31 Grand Slam crowns in doubles, and seven in mixed doubles. She only missed the mixed doubles Australian Open title to complete the Boxed Set Grand Slam, meaning winning all the four events in singles, doubles and mixed doubles. She also held a record of six consecutive Grand Slam titles between Wimbledon 1983 and the US Open in 1984 (back then, the Australian Open was played in December), and had secured the world No 1 spot for 332 weeks, a record at the time. In February 1994, she was still world No 3.
Julie Halard, born in 1970, turned pro in 1986. She broke into the top 100 for the first time in 1987, having played her first final on the Tour in Athens (defeated by Katerina Maleeva, 6-1, 6-0). In 1991, she claimed her first title, in Puerto Rico, defeating Amanda Coetzer in the final (7-5, 7-5), and she reached her year-end highest ranking as world No 20. She obtained her best Grand Slam result at the 1993 Australian Open, defeated by Monica Seles in the quarter-finals (6-2, 6-7, 6-0).
The Paris Indoor Open, known at the time as the “Open Gaz de France”, was created in 1993, in replacement of the Clarins Open, held in Paris from 1987 to 1992. The event took place at the Pierre de Coubertin arena, located in the Western part of Paris. The first edition was won by Navratilova, who defeated world No 1, Monica Seles, in the final (6-3, 4-6, 7-6).
In the second edition of the Paris indoor hard-court tournament, not only was Navratilova the defending champion, but she was playing the second tournament of her farewell tour. The nine-time Wimbledon champion had announced that she was going to retire at the end of 1994, and her first tournament of the year, in Chicago, had been such a disaster that she left the venue without attending a farewell ceremony held in her honour.
In Paris, Navratilova was better at mastering her nerves. Apart from a set dropped in the quarter-finals against Sabine Appelmans (6-4, 3-6, 6-3), she made her way into the final quite easily. There, she was to face the unexpected local player Halard, world No 40, who had never played in the final of such a big tournament. “This is the first time I reach the final in such an important tournament. I will try not to get discouraged if I miss a point or two as I did in the past,” said the Frenchwoman.
The Parisian crowd, despite the presence of a French player on the court, cheered for Navratilova. Halard, who hadn’t won one set in her three previous encounters with the left-handed legend, was the first to take the lead and she served for the set at 5-4, but she was once again defeated in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3. “I felt a lot of pressure,” said Halard, “I was unable to hit a passing shot.”.
Navratilova, who had won her first tournament in Orlando in 1974, had now won a title for 21 consecutive seasons, and, after the disappointment she had been through in Chicago, she showed that she was not be counted out during her farewell tour.
The highlight of Navratilova’s farewell tour would be Wimbledon, where she would reach the final, defeated by Conchita Martinez in three sets, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. This time she would share much more with the public and would receive the standing ovation she deserved after nine titles claimed at the All England Club.
In 2000, Navratilova would come back on the tour, playing essentially doubles, and by winning the mixed doubles at the 2003 Australian Open, partnering Leander Paes, she would complete the Boxed Grand Slam and become the oldest Grand Slam champion of all time, at 46. In 2004, she would receive a controversial wild card into the Wimbledon singles draw. Now 47, she would incredibly win her first round, 6-0, 6-2 against world No 102 Catalina Castano, before losing to Gisela Dulko, world No 59, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. In 2006, a few weeks from her 50th birthday, she would claim the mixed doubles title at the US Open, partnering Bob Bryan, and finish her career on a victory.
Julie Halard would climb as high as world No 7, in 2000, her last year as a professional player. She would triumph at the Gaz de France Open in 1996, defeating the future Roland-Garros champion, Iva Majoli, in the final (7-5, 7-6). At the end of her career, she had reached the Grand Slam quarter-finals three times, and held 12 WTA titles.