Script is new but outcome the same in Navratilova's Open victory
New York — ''Game, set, and match, Miss Navratilova.'' Those words form the most familiar refrain in tennis these days, one which was uttered seven times during this year's US Open Championships.
Chris Evert Lloyd dearly wanted to change the phrasing Saturday as the two met in the women's final for the second year in a row, and she put the pressure on early by winning the first set. Clearly this was going to be a different sort of match than Navratilova's runaway 6-1, 6-3 victory in 1983. In the end, though , the outcome turned out to be the same, as Martina rebounded to grind out a 4-6 , 6-4, 6-4 decision over her long-time rival.
Their dramatic duel at the National Tennis Center was the kind of match people love to watch, but seldom see anyone play anymore against Navratilova, who has virtually turned her sport into a one-woman game.
Even Evert Lloyd, her nearest yet increasingly frustrated pursuer, has now lost to Martina the last 13 times they've met. This latest confronttion had special significance, though.
For starters, it was a rubber match in a long-running rivalry that was tied at 30 wins apiece. Then, too, Navratilova was shooting for a sixth consecutive Grand Slam title and a 55th straight match victory.
Evert Lloyd had been thought to hold the record with 56 in a row, but research now seems to indicate that a forfeit inadvertantly got mixed into this count. Regardless of what the accurate figure may be, however, Chris realized it was up to her to stop Martina's relentless march.
That she couldn't was especially discouraging to the Open's 29-year-old runner-up. ''I'm more disappointed in losing here than I've been in a long time, '' she said. ''I don't have that many opportunities to play Martina, and I was hoping she might have a bit of a letdown.
''After the five Grand Slam titles you'd think she would come down to earth, and before our match I didn't feel she was playing as well here as she had at the French (Open) or Wimbledon.''
Chris struck quickly, taking the first set by hitting a succession of crisp passing shots by her lunging foe.
Several years ago, this might have unhinged Navratilova. But now she's much more sure of herself. Rather than panic, she made an adjustment.
''In the second set I worked my way up to the net instead of rushing it every time,'' she explained.
She also came up with the big shots when she had to. ''I knew that I would eventually meet Chris when she was playing her best tennis, but I wasn't,'' she said. ''That's what happened here, and why it was was so satisfying to reach back and pull it out.''
Evert Lloyd, who like Navratilova had advanced to the final without losing a set, was most impressed with her opponent's pressure shotmaking. ''I had my chances, but she throws in some big serves when she has to and plays the key points better than I do,'' said the six-time Open champion resignedly. ''Against everybody else that's where I'm tough - at deuce and on break points.''
Navratilova, though, is in a world of her own. She has dominated the game since 1982, losing just once last year (to Kathy Horvath in the French Open) and once this year (to Hana Mandlikova in January).
She has practically made three-set matches an endangered species, and often dispatches her opponents in less than an hour. She barely broke a sweat in beating Jennifer Mundel love-love in 35 minutes during a third-round match, and Lea Antonoplis admitted to dilly-dallying just to make their first-round match last an hour.
Her rivals are not the only ones groping for signs that Navratilova is beatable. Some spectators do as well.
''People were actually clapping the other day when my opponent hit a winner in the warmup,'' she noted.
Martina certainly has natural talent, yet she feels the public overlooks all the time an energy she has expended to become No. 1. It's easy to forget, for example, that she has been playing the pro tour since 1973 and has only now, at 27, reached her preeminent position.
She appeared to be on a Chubby Checker diet as a Czechoslovakian teen-ager. Since her 1975 defection, however, she has undergone a gradual metamorphosis so that now she has a reputation as one of strongest, fastest, fittest players the women's sport has ever witnessed. Besides lifting weights, she has increased her endurance by playing lengthy games of one-on-one basketball.
A chief motivational factor for Navratilova was a desire to catch up to Evert Lloyd. Though a serve-and-volley player by choice, she saw the necessity of adding another dimension to her game.
''She couldn't rally with Chris, so she learned more of a baseline game,'' says Mike Estep, a former Boston Lobsters teammate who coaches Navratilova. ''If she has to stay back now, she's comfortable.''
Martina likes playing Chris because ''she's one of the few players who push me to play my best tennis. A lot of times I don't get a chance to really show what I can do.''
The two are friends off the court as well. Before their match, in fact, they watched the dramatic, five-set men's semifinal won by Ivan Lendl over Pat Cash. As they exchanged comments, Martina even shared a bagel with her soon-to-be adversary.
After collecting her $160,000 winner's check, Martina looked ahead toward breaking the consecutive match winning streak (whatever it may be) and to the Australian Open later in the year.
Though she has already received a $1 million bonus for winning the International Tennis Federation's version of a Grand Slam (four consecutive major titles), many observers believe a true Slam only occurs when each of the majors is captured within a calendar year.
If she should win Down Under, she would become the first player since Margaret Court in 1970 to complete a pure Slam, and the first ever to do so on three different surfaces - clay, grass, and hard courts.