The night before Martina Navratilova was to meet Chris Evert in the quarterfinals of the Virginia Slims tournament in Washington, D.C. three weeks ago, she did what any nervous young player might have done under the circumstances. She phoned home for some fatherly advice.
"Play drop shots on her backhand," said Mirek Navratil from Revnice, Czechoslovakia.
Martina then did what most youngsters do. "Forget it," she replied. "That way I'll lose 6-2, 6-3. I'll play drop shots on her forehand."
At 18, Martina Navratilova is still young enough to need reassurance from home, old enough to make her own decisions and good enough to have beaten the queen of tennis two weeks out of the last three. Following her own advice, in Washington she beat Evert 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 and went on to win the tournament. Chris, who did not get where she is, which is No. 1 in the world, by letting 18-year-olds walk over her, came back the next week in Akron and put away their second-round match regally, 6-3, 6-1.
But last week, in the chilled vastness of Chicago's International Amphitheatre, before 7,000 delirious underdog-rooters, Martina did it again, and this time it wasn't even close: 6-4, 6-0, and match point was an ace.
"I realized she was not moving as fast as usual, so I hit cross-court and made her run," said Martina. "I was winning my serve quite easily, and after I broke her in the first game of the second set I was confident. I think she got down a little bit because she was not able to pass me as easily as usual."
The crowd in Chicago knew that it was watching something special. In the first set, when Martina won a point after Evert had run her repeatedly from one corner of the baseline to the other, the crowd roared for two full minutes.
"It was unbelievable," said Martina. "I felt like I should put my hands in my ears so as not to hear them."
The morning after the match, with the final against Margaret Court only a few hours away, Martina mused, "Now I should be able to beat anybody." But Court, whose comeback is gathering momentum, was not ready to be the first victim. She outplayed Navratilova 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.
Ever since 1973, when she arrived in the U.S. at the age of 16 to play on the short-lived USLTA women's tour, tennis people have been talking about the Navratilova potential—her aggressive left-handed game, her great strength, her natural ability. Watch the Czech, they said. It is only a matter of time.