After winning the first four games of the match, Navratilova appeared to have Hantuchova intimidated, but the third-seeded Slovakian recovered and earned a 2-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory in the second round of the $585,000 Britannic Asset Management Championships.
Playing in her first singles match in nearly eight years, the 45-year-old Navratilova beat Tatiana Panova of Russia, 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, on Tuesday and started strong Wednesday, breaking
Hantuchova's serve twice in the first four games. But Hantuchova fought back against her legendary opponent, winning four straight games in the second set and breaking Navratilova's serve twice in the third set as well.
Navratilova, winner of 167 singles and 166 doubles titles, asked for a late singles wild card into this grasscourt event in which she is an 11-time champion after losing a bet with her trainer, Giselle Tirado.
However, many of the players were not pleased with Navratilova's return, especially top-seeded Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, who had her match against Daja Bedanova relegated to a smaller court on Wednesday.
"You would think that the No. 1 seed would play on Centre Court, but there's some ridiculous match out there instead," said Dokic, referring to Navratilova's match against Hantuchova. "I thought I'd be playing there, but they changed it."
Her complaint came after she was beaten by Bedanova of the Czech Republic, 6-4, 1-6, 6-2.
"I'm not going to take it personally," Navratilova said when told of Dokic's outburst. "I understand there were a bunch of players who were happy I was playing and others who were not so happy. But I remember playing matches on court four and five at Wimbledon when I was ranked No. 1 and defending champion."
Navratilova's last singles match was a loss to Gabriela Sabatini in the first round of the WTA Championships in 1994. She came out of retirement in 2000 to play doubles and last month won the doubles title with Natasha Zvereva at the Madrid Open.
Hantuchova is the highest seed to advance to the quarterfinals after Dokic and No. 2 Sandrine Testud of France were upset on Wednesday. Anne Kremer of Luxembourg ousted Testud, 4-6, 6-3, 6-1.
Meanwhile, Bedanova completed a 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 7-6 (9-7) victory over Elena Likhovtseva before eliminating Dokic.
Hantuchova will meet Amy Frazier of the U.S. in the quarterfinals. Frazier advanced when sixth-seeded Iroda Tulyaganova retired during the first set of their match because of injury. Frazier was leading, 6-5.
No. 4 Silvia Farina Elia of Italy beat countrywoman Francesca Schiavone, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 6-2, and fifth-seeded Meghann Shaughnessy also reached the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Rita Grande of Italy.
In other matches, Chanda Rubin beat Magui Serna of Spain, 6-2, 6-2, and Anastasia Myskina of Russia beat Japan's Ai Sugiyama, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3).
First prize is $93,000.