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When Helena Sukova ended Martina Navratilova's 74-match winning streak at the 1984 Australian Open

Martina Navratilova congratulates Helena Sukova after their semifinal battle at the 1984 Australian Open
Martina Navratilova congratulates Helena Sukova after their semifinal battle at the 1984 Australian Open
Ewan West

On 6 December 1984, Helena Sukova defeated Martina Navratilova in a classic Australian Open semifinal to halt the longest winning streak in Open Era tennis. Navratilova had won six straight Major singles titles and was aiming to complete a historic calendar Grand Slam.

Background

The 1984 Australian Open was the penultimate time the event was held as the fourth and final Major on the tennis calendar. The tournament was played on grass courts and held at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club in Melbourne from 26 November to 9 December.

The Australian Open women's singles draw featured 64 players and 16 seeds, and was played over six rounds. World No. 1 Navratilova, aged 28, was the top seed, while 19-year-old Sukova was seeded ninth.

Navratilova was a 11-time Grand Slam singles champion, having won Wimbledon five times, and the Australian Open, French Open and US Open titles twice each.

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Starting with the 1983 Wimbledon Championships, Navratilova had won six Grand Slam events. Heading into the Australian Open, the Czechoslovak-American was also on a 70-match winning streak, which started at the US Indoor Championships in February 1984.

Sukova's best Grand Slam singles result prior to the event was reaching the fourth round of the 1983 French Open. The Czech had won two WTA singles titles at the time, including a grasscourt event in Brisbane two weeks before the Australian Open.

Helena Sukova and Martina Navratilova's path to the 1984 Australian Open semifinals

Navratilova breezed through her first two matches at the 1984 Australian Open against South Africa's Yvonne Vermaak and America's Mary Lou Piatek-Daniels, losing just five games. The No. 1 seed then came from behind to see off the 15th seed, American Kathy Rinaldi, 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 in the third round.

In the quarterfinals, the 28-year-old triumphed over another American, the No. 12 seed Barbara Potter, 6-3, 6-2. This saw Navratilova's record tally of consecutive match wins rise to 74, while she had also won an equally staggering 45 straight Grand Slam singles matches.

Sukova overcame American Elise Burgin and Australian Dianne Fromholtz in straight sets in the first and second rounds respectively. The 19-year-old then recovered to defeat the fifth seed, Germany's Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to reach the quarterfinals.

The No. 9 seed followed that up by toppling another higher-ranked opponent, the third-seeded American Pam Shriver, 6-2, 6-7(5), 6-1 in the last eight. Heading into the Australian Open semifinals, Sukova had won nine straight matches -- all on grass courts in Australia.

The match and conclusion to the tournament

Before their thrilling 1984 Australian Open semifinal matchup, Navratilova had won all three of the pair's prior encounters comfortably in straight sets. The World No. 1 triumphed 6-3, 6-3 in the previous meeting in the 1984 US Open quarterfinals three months earlier.

Navratilova continued the trend in Melbourne by taking the first set 6-1, although six of the seven games went to deuce. Sukova responded by breaking to go 4-2 up in the second set, before holding serve twice to take a set off her legendary opponent for the first time.

The 19-year-old then continued her surge into the deciding set and stormed to a 3-0 lead with a double break. Navratilova, though, fought hard to extend her historic run as she hit back to level at 4-4.

Sukova then lifted her level to earn a third break and take a 6-5 advantage in the final set. Navratilova remarkably saved five match points with forehand winners as the No. 9 seed served for the match until she finally missed a backhand return on Sukova's sixth chance.

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The World No. 1's record winning streak was halted at 74 matches, while her quest for a Calendar Grand Slam also came to an. Sukova progressed to her first Major final, which she lost 7-6(4), 1-6, 3-6 to No. 2 seed Chris Evert.

Navratilova and Sukova also faced off in the Australian Open women's doubles final, with Navratilova and Shriver beating Sukova and Kohde-Kilsch. The triumph completed an incredible doubles Calendar-year Slam for Navratilova and Shriver in 1984.

Navratilova went on to win a further seven Major singles titles to finish her career with 18, while Sukova was a runner-up at three more Grand Slam events.


Edited by Sarbajaya Bhattacharya

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