Welcome to Wimbledon Flashbacks, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable narratives from The Championships over the past 20 years. After recapping Birmingham's best battles and excellent Eastbourne encounters, our retrospective heads to the lawns of SW19. Next up is Martina Navratilova's record-setting 58th Grand Slam trophy in the 2003 mixed doubles alongside Leander Paes.
For more classic moments, check out our other Wimbledon Flashbacks:
1999: Qualifier Dokic dispatches top seed Hingis in first-round stunner
THE MOMENT: Martina Navratilova approached the 2003 Wimbledon championships with 19 titles at the All England Club to her name, just one short of her role model and former playing partner Billie Jean King’s haul.
Although she denied it was a target that had drawn her out of retirement, a string of quarterfinals in the ladies' doubles put her tantalisingly within reach of the mark, which was looking increasingly challenging as she neared her 47th birthday.
The last of her singles crowns at The Championships had been won in 1990, while she had not won the ladies' doubles since 1986. More success had been attained in the mixed competition, which she had won on three previous occasions, though the most recent of these was eight years previous in 1995 with Jonathan Stark.
She had struck up a successful partnership with Leander Paes in New York in 2002, which realized its promise earlier the same year in Australia, where Navratilova won her first major in eight years to become the oldest player to win a Grand Slam final.
The prospect of watching the American equalling King’s record was one that enthralled the Centre Court crowd, with the vast majority of the 13,000 fans, who had earlier watched Roger Federer win his first major title, staying to witness more history as their perennial favorite and Paes tackled Andy Ram and Anastasia Rodionova.
Navratilova and Paes had been in fine form throughout the fortnight, the No.5 seeds winning their first three matches without the loss of a set. Life became considerably more complicated in the quarterfinals, when they came from a set down to overcome No.2 seeds Lisa Raymond and Mike Bryan, 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-4 – a match Navratilova later confessed to feeling like her final – before Liezel Huber and Leos Friedl were dismissed in the semis on the Sunday morning.
In the showpiece, though, their experience and courtcraft showed against opponents who, until that point, had no history of playing upon such a stage.
“I was so calm, it was a joke,” Navratilova commented, and the play of her team reflected that self-assurance.
A 6-3, 6-3 victory was sealed as Paes punched an overhead between their opponents, with the Indian, who himself had four majors under his belt, turning to salute his playing partner’s achievement.
THE MEANING: Navratilova’s victory neatly closed a circle that she unknowingly began in 1979 when she helped King to win her 20th title.
She also extended her own record of being the oldest Grand Slam champion to 46 years and 261 days, confounding critics and sparking a discussion over whether she could match or even exceed Margaret Court’s tally of 64 majors overall, proving the strength of her game.
Although it proved to be her last Wimbledon success, she hinted it was one that had particular meaning for her.
"I can't think, I can't talk," she said afterwards. "They're all special, but the last one was eight years ago and honestly I never thought I'd play here again.
“The best thing that happened to me was getting dumped by my mixed doubles partner. And Leander - the same thing happened to him. That's how we got together at the US Open last year, and here we are."
Victory came barely a week after the passing of Hollywood icon Katharine Hepburn, a figure that Navratilova considered both a “friend” and an inspiration.
“She was a pioneer, and she was a woman way ahead of her time. She wasn't limited by the fact that she was a woman or lived in the '30s or '40s or whatever,” she said.
“When I heard the news of her passing, I though: 'Okay, Kate, this one's gonna be for you.'”
Navaratilova, meanwhile, had a similar effect on her playing partner, who at 30 had stumbled upon some hard times.
“Last year, I had a very tough year with my partners, and at the end of the year I was really feeling my age,” he said. “Her passion for the game and her zest for life is what has turned me around. Martina really helped me find my passion again.”
That Paes would subsequently go on to enjoy the best years of his career, which is ongoing at the age of 46, with 18 doubles titles to his name across all four majors and both disciplines, is tangible proof of the inspirational nature of Navratilova’s character and success.
She would go on to make four more Grand Slam finals and signed off in 2006 at the US Open by winning the mixed doubles with Bob Bryan in front of a raucous New York crowd – a fitting send off for one of the game’s greats.