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When the Virginia Slims traveling carpet and all-girl band got to town last week, Detroit was in the midst of a bad case of the grays. Car sales were down. The weather was lousy. The Pistons were a long shot for the playoffs, and the Red Wings were bumbling along 38 points behind Montreal.
Clearly what Motown needed was diversion, and the Slims show, a unique amalgam of sport and spangles that tours the country's major sports arenas for the first 13 weeks of the year, was just the ticket. The tournament, an annual fund-raising project of the Birmingham, Mich. Junior League—and the only sporting event in America with homemade brownies in the press room—drew the largest crowds in its seven years at Cobo Arena because the field included three of the biggest draws in the women's game. To wit, Evonne Goolagong, pursuing a comeback after the birth of her first child; Billie Jean King, playing singles on the Slims' green rug for the first time in three years; and Virginia Wade, winner of Wimbledon last summer and No. 2 in the world behind Chris Evert, who is sitting out most of the Slims tour this year (see box, page 22).
But it was Martina Navratilova, the gifted and mercurial 21-year-old Czech, who got the headlines in Detroit, just as she has been doing all winter wherever the Slims troupe alighted. With a resounding 6-3, 6-2 victory over Australian Dianne Fromholtz, Martina won a record sixth straight Slims tournament. (The previous record was held jointly by King and Goolagong.) Navratilova has won every tournament she has entered this season. She has won 30 consecutive matches, also a record, and she has lost only six sets in those matches. As her confidence has increased, her game has grown steadier, and she appears to be gathering momentum as she passes the milestones, one by one. For example, her scores in Detroit were 6-1, 6-2; 6-2, 6-3; 6-2, 6-0; 6-4, 6-2; 6-3, 6-2.
Fromholtz, a dainty blonde lefthander, is a strong, aggressive player. She is the one player all year who has given Navratilova a difficult match, a three-set struggle in early January that went to 7-5 in the last set. To reach the Detroit final she beat Renee Richards 6-3, 6-4, Goolagong 6-2, 6-1 and King 6-3, 0-6, 7-6. Fromholtz has a reputation as a giant killer because she once upset Evert in the first round of a Slims tournament, something that had happened to Chris only once before, but the Detroit final was no contest. It was over in exactly 60 minutes and Navratilova never breathed hard.
"Martina looks as if she's unbeatable," says Herb Foster, the promotions man who travels with the tour. "She sizes up how hard she has to play and plays that way. She rolls all over the younger players. The great improvement is her serve. When she gets down she serves well. She is playing much better than she has ever played in her life."
Q: Martina, have you ever played better in your life?
Q: Martina, are you unbeatable right now?
A: I can concentrate just about 100% now. Someone will have to beat me. I will not beat myself.
The surprise is not that Navratilova has lead the circuit in Evert's absence; she was a strong second to Chris on the 1977 Slims tour and has usually played well early in the year. The surprise lies rather in the juggernaut quality of her triumphs. The battle she was expected to have to wage with Goolagong for the top spot has not materialized. Although Goolagong launched her comeback impressively with four straight wins on grass in Australia in the late fall, she ran into trouble when she switched indoors and onto the Sporteze carpet used for Slims events. Her first tournament was in Florida. Martina had taken the week off to see her new hometown team, the Dallas Cowboys, win the Super Bowl, and in her absence Goolagong beat Wendy Turnbull 6-2, 6-3 in the finals. But in the process she badly injured her feet. A blistered heel and a painful instep were the price. "I wanted to cut them off," she said.