"I'd rather have my pro debut here than anywhere else," she said afterward. "I know the people who are watching. If I win, I'd like to win in front of them. If I lose, I know they'll understand."
No understanding was needed, or even contemplated. On Friday Evert had an easy time (6-2, 6-1) with Czechoslovakia's Marie Neumannova, who serves left-handed and hits everything else right-handed. On Saturday the semifinal victim was pretty Linda Tuero (6-1, 6-2) whose novelist boyfriend William Peter Blatty, author of The Exorcist, was in the audience.
"Chris is playing the best she has in her life," said Tuero.
Goolagong had been breezing also, beating Janet Haas 6-0, 6-1 and Patti Hogan 6-3, 6-3, but her Saturday afternoon match was against the more formidable Wade, and their battle was one of the tournament's most entertaining.
Goolagong, managed by the same people who handle Arnold Palmer and promoting a line of sportswear (Ginori) to rival Evert's, did not play well and Wade was aggressive and sharp. In the first set Wade had a 4-2 lead and was within a point of breaking Goolagong in the seventh game when the Aussie ran off five straight points—two of them on streaking backhand passing shots. The set went down to the last point of the nine-point tie breaker. Wade won it, then took the second set rather easily for a 7-6, 6-3 victory, and the producers of the Ev and Chrissie Show were looking for a catchy new title. Hey, how about Virginia Slams?
Whether or not she could wreck Evert's coming-out party by upsetting the hometown heroine on Sunday was another matter; she didn't seem overly optimistic. "I've practiced very hard and I've been playing well," she said. "I'm so pleased I got to the finals. She's a bloody good player on these courts. She'll probably kill me." Which gives Virginia honors as realist of the week.
The crowd, naturally, would be all for Evert—or would it? Six Fort Lauderdale girls, each about 13 and each in tennis clothes, were watching the Wade-Goolagong match and rooting hard for the Aussie. They wanted Goolagong to meet Evert in the finals the next day, right? Yes, they chorused. They would be rooting for Chris, right? Wrong. They would be for Goolagong.
"She's nicer than Chris," said one with a faceful of freckles and a mouthful of metal. "Chrissie's gotta lose sometime."
Well, Evert did not lose despite her little detractors. The only question about her, one left completely unanswered after the tournament, was how she would do were she to play on the tougher Slims Circuit with fewer events on Florida clay and steady opposition from King, Court, Nancy Gunter, Kerry Melville, etc. Evert herself would like to know and said she was sure the Women's Lob feud would be settled by next year.
In the meantime she will be traveling the USLTAWPMC, modeling her Sports 7 dresses, honing her strokes—and making money.