The two best women tennis players in the world moved toward the court to play the finals of the Pat Summerall U.S. Open. Steffi Graf, in her new hairdo, a ponytail, and Martina Navratilova, in her new punky spike-top, both carried large bouquets. A man, clean-shaven and dressed all in white, save for his dark glasses, popped out of the gloaming and kissed Martina. He was Don Johnson of
It was almost six o'clock on Saturday, the penultimate day of the tournament, and Johnson was lucky to find the lady to buss, for with the women's final playing second fiddle to the two men's semis, it was tough to figure when the women would be called on to begin their most important match at the Tim Ryan U.S. Open. At the three real Grand Slam championships, the French and Australian Opens and Wimbledon, scheduling is orderly, and the integrity of the game is maintained. But the Mary Carillo U.S. Open is run as a TV show, and America's championship has been called bush league—or some comparable foreign idiom—by all sorts of observers from around the world. Luckily, the chattel at the Tony Trabert U.S. Open can still rise above their environment, and by the time the distaff finalists left the court an hour and a half later, Navratilova had beaten Graf for the third year running at Flushing Meadow, and once again put on the mantle of best in the world.
Three days earlier Chris Evert had been eliminated in the quarterfinals, and her departure marked the end of some remarkable—even DiMaggioan—streaks. Meanwhile, Navratilova was stretching some records of her own. By defeating Graf she earned her fourth U.S. title in the last five years and her 17th Grand Slam singles crown. She has reached the finals of the last 11 major championships (and 17 of the last 18), which are played on three continents, on three surfaces, in winter, spring and summer. Rarely does a player—man or woman—even compete in 11 straight Grand Slam events; to play the final match in 11 in a row is Olympian.
Graf has been in three consecutive Grand Slam finals herself. Some old-timers even recollect when major finals were the Martina and Chris Show. But now it's Martina and Steffi at the anchor desk, with Hana on weather, Pam on sports, and Lori out in the field. Lori?
Anybody who had seen Evert lose on clay last summer in the Federation Cup to Sandra Cecchini of Italy knew that she had reached an age when she was a bomb waiting to fizzle. In New York it happened against the No. 11 seed, Lori McNeil of Houston. The legs don't go first. The eyes don't go first. What goes first is that the days aren't all the same anymore. Some days, in fact, become bad days. Such a day for Evert came on Sept. 9 against McNeil: 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. McNeil approached on everything. Said Evert afterward, "Nobody has ever come in on my serve like that."
For the first time in 16 years Evert didn't make the semifinals of her national championship. It was only the second time in her career of 49 Grand Slam tournaments that she failed to reach the final four, and the defeat ended a 13-year streak in which she had won at least one Grand Slam crown. "Chris is different," McNeil said simply enough. "She has so much history behind her."
Evert took what likely amounts to the end of her career as a major force in tennis quite well. She realized how many bad days she had dodged. "As hard as I tried, I couldn't get my body to do the things I wanted it to," she said.
Some players encounter that recalcitrance in their dispositions. Indeed, a wayward temperament is what did in Hana Mandlikova, the fourth seed, the reigning Australian champion, the winner at Flushing Meadow two Septembers ago and the loose cannon (some would say screw) in any field. Mandlikova went slightly berserk early in the third set of a fourth-round match against Claudia Kohde-Kilsch. Infuriated at the officiating, Mandlikova first berated two linesmen. Summoned by walkie-talkie, Georgina Clark, the supervisor of the women's competition at the Open, arrived at the scene. Clark assessed the situation and, with British understatement, decided that "the match was fragile." Mandlikova then started wielding her racket against the patio furniture in her best Lizzie Borden style. Clark penalized Mandlikova a whole game. It was only the third time in the annals of crime that such a punishment had been meted out to a female player.
After the choleric Mandlikova had donated the deciding set by a score of 6-1 to Kohde-Kilsch's favorite charity, she retreated to a public lavatory to escape the jackals of the press. The intrepid journalists thereupon dispatched one of the gentler sex, Cindy Shmerler of World Tennis magazine, to enter the loo, where she enjoyed an unforgettable conversation with the stallbound loser. Finally, Mandlikova was rescued from the Fourth Estate by her coach, Betty Stove.
The departures of Evert and Mandlikova appeared to grease the paths of the two top seeds. Indeed, Navratilova, No. 2, moved effortlessly to the final, routing Helena Sukova (whom she had whipped last year in the finals) 6-3, 6-2 in the semis. Graf, however, was lucky to escape with her life against McNeil.