It will be a hot day in January when the Virginia Slims of Washington fans see a better battle than yesterday's war of winners between that powerful, unpredictable comedienne, Martine Navratilova, and the gallant pigtailed kid, Dianne Fromholtz.

Defending champ Navratilova - cracking jokes, kicking rackets, debating calls - had all she could handle from the vastly improved Australian in a 6-7, 6-4, 7-5 semifinal victory at Smith Center.

Navratilova will play the winner of the other semifinal match last night between fourth-seed Betty Stove and unseeded JoAnne Russell in today's 1:30 p.m. championship match at Capital Center.

The two-hour seesaw of emotions and momentum between Navratilova and Fromholtz was clearly the week's tautest, most exhausting and most cheered match.

The two-hour seesaw of emotions and momentum was clearly the week's tautest, most exhausting and most cheered match.

"Boy, I'm glad that's over," said the candid, crowd-pleasing Navratilova. "Dianne ran me so much I thought I was going to puke right on the court."

This match's only esthetic weakness was its anticlimatic finish. It ended with a Fromholtz wimper.

After waging offensive mayhem with Navratilova for 34 games - pounding out blurred passing shots and line-clipping, untouchable service return winners - Fromholtz botched two simple baseline ground strokes to start her final service game at 6-5 in the third.

Navratilova, who has never lost in Washington and believes luck follows her here, pounced like a predator, crushing a forehand crosscourt pass and forcing a final volleying error with another bullet.

The crowd of 3,100, which swung back and forth in its affections for the two southpaws, seemed momentarily stunned, cheated of a blazing finish. Then the grateful standing ovation began.

"I'll think about those two errors all night," said Fromholtz who perhaps deliberately, offered a most extreme little girl constrast to the strapping Navratilova by wearing a pink dress, ruffled pants and her blonde hair in pigtails.

But the contrasts between the 21-year-olds were superficial. At heart both the 5-9, 149-pound Navratilova and the 5-4, 124 pound Fromholtz love to massacre the ball. Navratilova has always done it. Fromholtz has only learned in the last six weeks how to execute the approaches and volleys essential to a net game. "I love to come up and kill the ball," she said.

Navratilova was protagonist and Fromholtz foil throughout this dramatic afternoon. The challenger demurely held her emotions in, except for one loud complaint that resulted in a reversal of a linesman's call. "I'd held it in so long, I just went bananas," Fromholtz said.

Navratilova's running commentary, however, was worth the price of a box seat. The Czech expatriot is by nature gregarious, mischievous, emotional - a sly pixie in an imposing frame.

Yesterday, after suffering one of many calls she considered bad, she announced to the umpire. "The least you can do is ask the service linesman to reconsider. He cannot see. He looks like (New York) Mayor (Abe) Beame and he makes decisions like him, too."

"Oh, now this one won't talk to me," Navratilova said later after an offending linesman ignored her appeals.

"I see. You only change calls for her," Navratilova said with hauteur to the woman umpire.

In short, the Americanization of Martina has come a long way, largely because of Navratilova's friendship with Billie Jean King, the consummate show woman and prankster.

The fluctuations of Navratilova's moods - some feigned, some genuine - seemed to determine the flow of the match.

After four back-and-forth service breaks early in the first set, Navratilova was miffed. "When my serve is broken early," she said, "it upsets me. I can't help it."

That annoyance reached a peak when Fromholtz made a brazen service breakthrough to knot the match, 6-6. Fromholtz was pounding her passes with abandon and hit a gorgeous forehand crosscourt topspin lob that set up the break.

In the tie breaker Navratilova rallied from 0-3 to 3-3, then held her stomach in relief when a set point against her hung on the cord and fell back.

But on the first-set's sudden-death tie breaker point, Navratilova's one well-known weakness betrayed her. Fromholtz hit a deep approach, rushed the net and Navratilova slashed her backhand long. "No," screamed Navratilova, who sent and hid her head in some blue draperies.

"Yes," said many an opponent who knows you can get to the net against Navratilova's backhand.

Fromholtz fought well in the last two sets, twice getting back on serve after being broken. But all the pressure was coming from Navratilova.

Navratilova's big serve and her relative composure were decisive.

"I started serving really well ast match went on," she said," and I thought I was behaving pretty well. I could have acted a lot worse. When I felt frustrated, I would just say what I was thinking in order to relax myself."

At 4-4 in the third, Navratilova delivered her final message. She finished a love service game with three straight big aces down the center line that had Fromholtz diving desperately trying to touch the ball.

"Billie Jean (King) helped me with that serve yesterday," Navratilova said, grinning.

By the final games, the top seed was doing all the slugging. One Navratilova forehand actually knocked down the center portion of the net.