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Two facts were demonstrated last week during the Colgate Series Championships at Mission Hills in Southern California. One is that Chris Evert is not yet ready to settle for second place. The other is that it takes more than money to make a tennis tournament.
Evert and Martina Navratilova arrived in Palm Springs separated by only .486 of a point in the latest 1978 computer rankings of women players. Navratilova was No. 1 on the basis of her 11 wins, including Wimbledon and the Virginia Slims Championship, and her 2-1 record against Evert in their head-to-head meetings. Since winning the U.S. Open in September, however, Evert seemed to have regained the form and confidence she had temporarily lost by taking a four-month rest last winter. She had won two of the three tournaments she had entered since September.
If, Chrissie reasoned, she were to win the Colgate, she and Martina would have two major titles apiece, and their head-to-head record would be 2-2, but she, Evert, would be No. 1 because she had lost only to Evonne Goolagong (in the Slims of Boston) and to Martina (at Eastbourne and Wimbledon), whereas Martina had some "bad losses" on her record, meaning defeats at the hands of lesser players, namely Regina Marsikova, Pam Shriver, JoAnne Russell and Tracy Austin.
"Well, there you have it," said Wade dryly. "If Chris Evert says it, it must be so." On the eve of the final, Navratilova said, "If I lose to Chris, I won't feel I'm No. 1. But I won't feel I'm No. 2 either. One and a half maybe."
So, with more than mere money riding on the outcome, the best eight players in the world, minus Goolagong—the latest in a frustrating string of injuries forced her to withdraw—got to work. Each day they would practice in brilliant desert sunshine at Palm Springs' posh Tennis Club, where they were quartered, or at Colgate's Mission Hills Country Club, some 15 miles away. And each afternoon, after the sun had dropped out of sight behind the San Jacinto Mountains and the temperatures on the desert floor had dropped as well, they would play their matches in the frigid air, wearing precious little, observed by a few hundred tennis fans wrapped to their blue noses in blankets, parkas and minks.
The tournament format, which looked on paper like a diagram of the molecular structure of an atom, was a double-elimination round robin for two rounds, leading to the semifinals, in which the top half of the draw, the red group, and the bottom half, the blue, were to mingle and produce finalists.
Unfortunately for the frozen fans who could have used some excitement, all went pretty much according to form. Evert and Navratilova advanced directly to the semifinals with two easy wins apiece. Wade and Virginia Ruzici (pronounced Roo-zeech), the leggy Romanian with the fearsome forehand, each had one loss—Wade to Martina and Ruzici to Chris—but, under the format, advanced anyway.
In the semis, Evert caught Wade on a bad night and dispatched her 6-2, 6-2, in a match that was even more one-sided than the score shows. Evert and Wade have had some great matches because Evert's play often responds to the intensity of Wade's. Their match last year at Mission Hills was one of the best of the tournament. But three weeks ago in the Wightman Cup, Evert beat Wade 6-0, 6-1 in a match Evert feels was one of the best of her life. She tapes her right wrist these days, not because it is injured but because it was taped when she played Wade that day. "It's kind of a psych now," she explained.
The other semifinal match, Navratilova against Ruzici, was only a little better. Both are exciting players when they are going well, but neither was particularly sharp. Martina won 6-4, 6-4 after breaking Ruzici's serve at 5-4 in each set, but her timing was off and her play was patchy. " Virginia hits her forehand 200 mph," said Martina, "and then she hits her backhand very softly. It's hard to get into any sort of pace against her."