DO THE IMPOSSIBLE. Clothe yourself in Zina Garrison's sensibility. Put yourself behind her almond eyes. Feel what it was like when she went out to end Chris Evert's career two months ago in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.
In the early games you find yourself playing tentatively, struck by the crowd's yearning for an Evert win. Not that you sense hostility. Few inside the stadium at the National Tennis Center in New York City know anything about you. Your shyness has seen to that. No, you are just an obstacle, a cipher standing in the way of sentiment—and a perfect ending. You feel, you will later say, "nonexistent." It is a sensation you have some experience with.
Whenever the roar of jet aircraft taking off from nearby La Guardia Airport stops play, you straighten and take in the tableau before you. The TV cameras are trained on Evert, on the mother and father who gave so much to her career and on her new husband, Andy Mill, who's easing her out of it. The crowd of more than 15,000 seems to be an extended family that Evert has amassed during 17 years of consistent and graceful victory. You share in the general admiration, but you have to block it out.
Your strategy is to play patiently from the baseline until chances to charge the net present themselves. Few do. You fall behind 5-2 in the first set.
You are ranked fifth in the world and have played Evert 10 times. You've beaten her occasionally, in your uneven past, but never in a Grand Slam match. She has never had anything like your speed, yet almost always has kept you at bay with deft placement and unwavering consistency. But now she allows an opening or two. Each time, you charge, win the point and see Evert feeling the pressure.
So, in something of a departure, you get about it. Crisply, athletically, intelligently, you turn the match around. Caught in crosscurrents of emotion, you wear her down and win 7-6, 6-2. You brush away an honest tear for the departure of the 34-year-old champion and wish that someone else could have effected it. As you prepare to leave the stadium, Evert throws an arm around you.
All right, sporting reader, now slip back into your own senses and consider this: By rights, the outcome of this match should have constituted a succession. No matter how deeply, and universally, Evert's loss was mourned, this should also have been the moment when Garrison was finally recognized as one of the premier players in the world. As much as it was Evert's moment, it should have been Garrison's, too.
In fact, this ascension has not even been noticed by the computer, which still has her ranked fifth, after she lost to third-ranked Gabriela Sabatini 3-6, 7-5, 5-7 at the Virginia Slims Championships last week at Madison Square Garden. Over the years Garrison has lost so many late-round matches to elite opponents that she has allowed the doubtful and demanding collective mind of tennis to conclude that she is a hopeless choker. She has been ranked among the top dozen women for six years, but has never made the finals of a Grand Slam event. She has reached the allegedly advanced age of 26, and her career is judged by many critics to be almost beyond saving.
So at Flushing Meadows, under the scream of the jets, at the moment of her most public defining, Garrison was not granted a fresh, conquering self, just an undeserved load of the world's ambivalence. Unless she wins at least one major, she will be best known as the woman who ended Chrissie's last dream. Yet if you know Garrison's origins, you start to mumble that the labels are embroidered from callous ignorance.
In the hot Houston summer of 1963, Mary Garrison, 42, mother of six, saw a doctor about a swelling in her abdomen. "You have a tumor," the doctor told her and recommended an operation.