A few spectators waved the Stars and Stripes at Centre Court today, urging Americans Tracy Austin and Chris Evert to make the Fourth of July a Yankee Doodle Dandy occasion at Wimbledon.
But alas, the all-American pairing they fancied did not come about. The women's semifinals produced few fireworks.
Evert, champion in 1974 and '76, did reach the final for the fifth time in seven years, flogging an erring and strangely listless Evonne Goolagong Cawley, 6-3, 6-2.
But Austin, unsettled by a controversial line call as she served for the first set against Martina Navratilova at 5-4, 15-30, lost that game and the next eight as well and tumbled to the defending champion, 7-5, 6-1.
Thus Navratilova, 22, and Evert, 24, who produced a memorable final last year and one of the great women's matches of all time in an otherwise insignificant tournament two weeks ago, will meet once more Friday, with the grandest title in the game at stake.
"I think Martina definitely deserves to be in the final because she's had such a great year," said Evert, who lost last year's final, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, but edged Navratilova for the year's No. 1 world ranking by beating her three times and winning every other match she played the rest of 1978.
"She was definitely the best player the first three months of the year.
"I think I've played very well in Europe. I've been over here eight weeks and have lost only one match [in the semifinals of the Italian Open, where Austin broke her six-year, 125-match clay court winning streak], so I think I deserve to be in the final, too."
Everyone hopes they produce a classic of the sort they did on the grass of Deveonshire Park in Eastbourne in the final of a Winbledon overture a fortnight ago.
Evert won that match, 7-5, 5-7, 13-11, saving three match points in the 91-minute final set. Many longtime observers called it the best women's match, in sustained high quantity, in more than a decade.
That experience could give
That experience could give Eve Evert a psychological advantage in the final. Ironically, Navratilova saved a match point in the final of the same tournament last year, than came back from 2-4 in the third set of the Wimbledon final to beat an Evert who lacked match toughness after a four-month vacation.
Both players will have to play considerably better than they did today if they are to recreate the magic of Eastbournr.
Navratilova did not overwhelm Austin, as she did in the fourth round last year, but her weight of shot and superior net game got her out of trouble.
The most dramatic moment of an afternoon that had few of them came with Austin serving for the first set. Navratilova had just ended a four-game slide by holding serve to 4-5, and Austin was trying desperately to get a set in hand before the tide came rolling in.
At 15-30, Navratilova hit a forehand that appeared to be an inch or two beyond the baseline. Austin thought it was out, but no call came.
The point went on, and Navratilova won it with running forehand into an open court off a scrambling forehand down the line. Austin went to the umpire defiantly and asked "Did you see that ball out?" He said no, and so she went back to serve at 15-40.
"That was kind of the most important point of the first set, and it was a bad call," Austin said later. "I can't do anything about it, but I guess maybe the linesman was sleeping.
"It bothered me a little in that game and the next one, because I kept thinking back. It was such a big point, the difference between 30-all and 15-40."
On the break point, Austin, behind a hard backhand approach, went to the net voluntarily -- she seldom did in the set -- but Navratilova passed her with a forehand cross-court for the break back to 5-5.
Navratilova saved one break point in the 11th game with a thunderous overhead, then kept Austin under constant pressure with forcing returns in the next. Austin saved three set points, but then sprayed a couple of long backhands to lose the set
Navratilova had been struggling for days to find her form. She started slowly in three-set victories over Tanya Harford, Greer Stevens and Dianne Fromholtz, and knew that she had to get off the mark quicker against Austin. The little American runs down balls other players would not get near and hits wonderful passing shots off both wings.
Navratilova went out to Court 13 before the match and had King, who lost to Austin in the quarterfinals, impersonate Tracy's game, puffy serve and all. They hit for an hour, until 1:50 when Martina hurriedly changed into her dress and went onto the court "warm and pumped-up."
She broke to a 3-1 lead, then after four deuces lost her serve with a double fault and a muffed volley. She won only three points in the next three games.
From 3-5 down, Navratilova reeled off nine games in a row, though she had to save two break points in the opening game of the second set and one in the third game, which went to deuce six times.
But Navratilova was playing much more aggressively now, slicing deep backhand approaches that stayed low on the grass. Austin didn't have a chance to rip the hard, flat passing shots she had been making earlier.
Austin played bad games on her serve in the second and fourth games of the second set, while Navratilova improved her first serve percentage markedly. Austin tried to change up her game, even following her serve to net a few times, but Navratilova merely expanded in self-assurance.
"I was surprised to see her coming in," the champion said, I looked up to my friends in the box and said, "Is this Tracy?' but I knew then she was getting desperate."
Evert never had any really anxious moments against her old rival Goolagong, whom she has beaten in 19 of 41 matches since they first met on Centre Court in an enchanting semifinal in 1972.
Goolagong lost her serve in the second game of the match by netting a backhand half-volley and then hitting an easy overhead wide from the serving line. She got back to 2-3 by breaking at love, slicing a backhand return winner on the sideline after Evert double faulted twice. But then she promptly lost her serve again to 2-4 by netting a weak backhand half-volley and pushing a backhand volley wide.
Those were the sort of errors that dominated a nervous, tentative first set. While Evert got appreciably better in the second, Goolagong did not. Most of the games were decided by Goolagons's errors, some coming under pressure but just as many unforced.
Evert did not look like a worldbeater, but she had a perfectly logical response to those who suggested she was not in peak form:
"Everyone is saying that I'm not that sharp, but I'm in the finals and I haven't lost a set.
"Everyone's really being kind of critical of my game, but I've never been the type of player who is 100 percent at the top of my game every round. I usually play as well as I have to. Evonne was making a lot of errors, especially in the first set, so I just wanted to play a consistent game.
King is down to one event in her effort to win a record 20th career Wimbledon title.
She and partner Ben Testerman, a 17-year-old Texan, were beaten in the third round of the mixed doubles today by Australians John Newcombe and Helen Gourlay Cawley, 6-4, 6-3.
King and Navratilova, top seeds in the women's doubles, will play their semifinal match Thursday against Francoise Durr and Virginia Wade.
John McEnroe and Peter Fleming today reached the men's doubles final by beating South Africans Bob Hewitt and Frew MeMillan, their conquerors in last year's final, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3. CAPTION: Picture, Chris Evert unloads her two-handed backhand on Wimbledon victim Evonne Goolagong Cawley. AP