Somehow it seemed inevitable that Chris Evert would beat Wendy Turnbull easily - as she did yesterday, 6-3, 6-0 - and go on to play today's women's singles final of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships against Pam Shriver, the youngest finalist in the 98 years of the tourney.
Fate was obviously at work.
When this memorable Open, the first at the new National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadow Park, began 13 days ago, nearly everyone expected and wanted to see a rematch of the Wimbledon women's final. In that one, Martina Navratilova, the 21-year-old expatriate Czech left-hander who has gotten her head and abundant talent together this year, knocked 1975-76-77 U.S. champion Evert off the No. 1 pedestal she has occupied for four years.
Shriver, who turned 16 July 4, canceled the return engagement Friday by bumping Navratilova, 7-6, 7-6, in perhaps the most stunning upset in women's major-tournament history.
But if the prospect of a Navratilova-Evert sequel had aficionados salivating, Evert-Shriver has them gasping. This appears to be a match made in heaven, offering both contrast in style and fascinating historical quirks and twists. Students of the cyclical theory of history must be delighted.
Think back to September 1971.
Floridian Evert swatted her way into the American consciousness by reaching the semifinals of the U.S. Open at Forest Hills, its home for the past 54 years.
It was her first time in the tournament. At 16 years nine months, she was the youngest semifinalist ever in the U.S. championships - 2 1/2 months younger than Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly, another backcourt player with unerring ground strokes, was when she won the first of three consecutive titles precisely 20 years earlier.
Evert was America's darling then. Even the staid New York Times called her "Cinderella in Tennis Shoes." In crowded Manhattan elevators, people who seldom smile at rush hour paused to ask, "How's that little girl doing at Forest Hills?" She did fine until Billie Jean King, rushing the net on the grass that was the U.S. championship surface until 1975, overwhelmed her in the semis. End of fairy tals.
But the Chrissie Phenomenon had begun. On courts throughout the U.S., little girls wore their hair in ponytails, put on gold earrings and hit their backhands just like Evert.
One of them was Tracy Austin, now 15, another marvel of backcourt consistency. Chrissie was her childhood idol. They played for the first time at Wimbledon last year, and Evert won, 6-1, 6-1. They played for the third time in the quarterfinals here last week, and Evert won in straight sets for the third time.
Pam Shriver started playing tennis seriously in 1971. This year, she went to Don Candy, who was what his fellow Australians call "a useful player" on the international circuit in the 1950s. He had relocated as a coach in Baltimore. Shriver comes from suburban Lutherville.
"Pammy came to me for her first lesson and left in tears because she missed a volley," Candy jokes now. She never liked to stay at the baseline. Evert was less of a tennis role model for her than Billie Jean King.
Evert is 23 now, the first woman to win three successive U.S. championships since Connolly in 1951-52-53. If she wins today (WDVM-TV-9, 4 p.m.), she will become the first to win four straight since Helen Jacobs in 1932-35.
The only player who can stop her is Shriver, playing the Open for the first time, who would rather exercise her one chance to supplant Maureen Connolly as the youngest U.S. champion.
"I thought about that when I watched that TV special on 'Little No' last week," said Shriver, whose mother, Margot, lost to Connolly in a junior tournament in San Diego three decades ago.
"Little Mo," a television movie about the triumph and tragedy that was the late Connolly's life, was screened for the first time last week. Pam and Margot Shriver both saw it.
When you think about it, its almost eerie.
Evert says she has "mixed emotions" about playing Shriver rather than Navratilova in the final.
"I was eager to play Martina, because when I lose I like to get another crack at the person who beats me. But I also really want to win this tournament, and if I do I don't think the fact that I didn't beat Martina will take anything away from the title," she said after beating Turnbull, last year's runner-up, in a match that had been suspended by rain on Friday with Evert to serve at 3-1 in the first set.
Turnbull is so fleet that she is nicknamed "Rabbit," but she was as erratic as the gusy wind that swirled in Louis Armstrong Stadium yesterday.
She made an embarrassing number of unforced errors, especially off the forehand and won only two games in the 32-minute resumption. Those were Evert's first two service games, gifts wrappws in undoexws weeoea ns souvlw d ulra vwdoew 'xheiaai douns hwe e nfw ns e n odd rhw l ar wifhr f mwa, loainf only awcwn poinra in rhw awxons awr.
So now Evert is in the final against the 6-foot, 120-pound, big-serving Shriver, recently nicknamed the "Great Whomping Crane."
"I enjoy playing against her type of game because she's aggressive. That makes me go for the big shots, especially passing shots. I'm looking forward to it," Evert said.
She is not the self-described "nervous wreck" she was before her first meeting with the 14-year-old Austin.
"It will be different because even though Pam is young, she is bigger and stronger than I am. I won't be intimidated by her age," said Evert. "When I played Tracy, she looked so little (5-feet, 95 pounds) and fragile out there, like she couldn't hurt a fly. Pam is six inches taller than I am. I won't be thinking of her age. If anything, I'll be thinking about her height."
Also her serve, the slice that bounced high to Navratilova's lefthanded backhand and gave her fits. Shriver mixes speed and spin on her serve well, but that same bread-and-butter delivery should trouble Evert's two-fisted backhand, with which it is difficult to generate power on a high ball.