Dianne Fromholtz, who had lost only nine games in three previous matches in the $125,000 Avon Championships of Washington, summed up her 6-4, 6-3 demise to Martina Navratilova in yesterday's semifinals candidly and succinctly.
"I thought I was playing pretty good up until this," she said, "and then I got crunched."
Navratilova was not up to her best form of last year, when she won her first seven tournaments and 37 matches on the winter tour and seized the Wimbledon title to climax a six-month rampage. But she had too much firepower for Fromholtz on the quick synthetic carpet at George Washington University's Smith Center.
Navratilova, top seed here, likely will encounter more resistance at 2 p.m. today when she plays No. 2-seeded Tracy Austin in the final, worth $24,000 to the winner and $12,000 to the runner-up. It was Austin, then only 15, and a newcomer to adult tournaments, who ended Navratilova's long winning streak last March in Dallas.
Austin breezed past South African left-hander Ilana Kloss, 6-2, 6-3, last night. Austin has beaten Navratilova in two of seven career meetings, most recently in the final of an eight-woman tournament in Japan in November, five weeks after she turned pro.
Navratilova dismisses the last match, a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing. "I was really down mentally," she said. "I was looking forward to the vacation that I was going to have after that. I was in the type of mood that if things went right for me in the beginning of the match, I would have stuck it out, but I didn't start out well and she got on top of me and I just didn't fight it out at all."
Navratilova praises Austin's game. "She moves really well, so it's tough to put the ball away against her, and she hits winners all over the place," she said. Curiously, however, she said she finds it difficult to get psyched up to play the 16-year-old from Rolling Hills, Calif.
"I can't seem to get excited about it like I do when I play Chris (Evert)," the expariate Czech said yesterday. "It's not as much of a challenge as playing Chris, even though their styles are so similar that if you didn't look at the faces you'd think you were playing the same person."
Indeed, if you watched Austin last night -- forgetting the youthful face and the blond hair tied in "bunches" (not pigtails, please; they're not braided) -- it would have been easy to imagine Evert as the threshing machine who was running Kloss ragged.
Austin has the same balance, the identical lateral movement along the baseline, the same early preparation, two-fisted backhand and textbook stroking motion as Evert. She moves forward and back better, is a little quicker, and likes to come to the net more, but she is not yet as strong as Evert.
Austin's serve, like Evert's at 16, also is attackable, and that is what Navratilova expects to exploit.
"I know I can jump on Tracy's second serve, maybe run around it and hit some forehands and scare her off," Navratilova said. "I think if I serve halfway decent and hold my own serve, I'll be able to break hers."
Of course, in order for Navratilova to pick on Austin's second serve, Austin is going to have to miss her first. She didn't do that often last night, putting 43 of 54 first deliveries in the court, including 21 of 23 in the second set.
Kloss, who has fine touch and a good net game but is slow afoot and puts little pace on the ball, was unsuccessful in her attempts to get behind returns. Frequently she overhit them, and when she was able to sneak into the forecourt, Austin usually passed her.
Kloss is an astute tactician who likes to use all of the court. She tried to jerk Austin out of court wth dinks and drop shots then pass or lob her, but Austin was quick enough to cover most balls and hit forcing shots off them.
"Tracy anticipates very well and gets her racket back very early," Kloss said. "You're always worried that she's going to hit a good shot. I found I was trying to do too much. You're scared that if she gets to the ball, she's going to hurt you,"
The match between Navratilova and Fromholtz, both 22-year-old left-handers, also was disappointing compared with their semifinal meeting here last year. Navratilova won that one by a whisker, 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, and went on to beat Betty Stove in the final for her third tournament victory in Washington in four years.
"I feel I played more consistently today. Even though I still made some unforced errors, I played better than in my earlier matches, so I think I'm getting tuned into the finals just fine," said Navratilova, who gradually has found her timing after coming here with a heavy cold.
Fromholtz -- who has a 2-9 career record against Navratilova and hasn't beaten her since 1976, even though they have had some close matches -- held after four deuces and two break points in the first game, and broke Navratilova for a 2-0 lead. But that was shortlived.
From 30-15 in the third game, the Australian netted a leaping backhand smash, overhit an easy forehand, then pushed an awkward forehand volley long. Navratilova was off on a four-game run, served out the first set at love, and sprinted to a 4-0 lead in the second set.
Occasionally Navratilova drilled backhands, ground strokes and volleys that had the look and sound of speeding bullets. These had a most discouraging effect on Fromholtz.
"Sometimes I feel overpowered," the 5-4, 115-pound Aussie said. "Martina is running very well, and she's very strong. Once she gets on top of you, it's hard to get back into the match.
Navratilova would like to impress the same point on Tracy Austin -- 5-4, 110 pounds, and growing -- this afternoon.