Realistically, the eight-woman shoot-out in the $250,000 Colgate Series Championship must be looked at as a matter of the "Big Four" of contemporary women's tennis and the "Other Four."
That blunt, rather cruel, but inescapable conclusion was borne out yesterday as the Big Four -- Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert Lloyd, Tracy Austin and Evonne Goolagong Cawley -- won their opening matches so decisively that they almost seemed like ritual executions.
In the afternoon, before a sparse audience of 2,400 spectators, who seemed lost in cavernous Capital Centre, Goolagong swept past erring Regina Marsikova, 6-1, 6-1, and Navratilova overwhelmed Kerry Reid, 6-3, 6-0, with an impressive display of serving and volleying.
The evening singles produced almost as little drama for 6,800 customers. Evert Lloyd did have to come back from a 1-3 dificit in the second set in beating Australian left-hander Dianne Fromholtz, 6-1, 6-4, but Austin mercilessly drubbed jet-lagged Aussie Wendy Turnbull, 6-1, 6-0, in the most painful of the day's slaughters.
To complete the carnage Wimbledon champions Navratilova and Billie Jean King thumped Ilana Kloss and Betty-Ann Stuart, 6-3, 6-2, in the first match of the four-team doubles event. Navratilova-King will play for the $30,000 doubles top prize Friday night.
The winners of yesterday's singles matches are paired against each other in tonight's evening session, with Evert Lloyd playing Austin at 7 in a rematch of the U.S. Open final that Austin won in September.
That will be followed by Navratilova versus Goolagong -- potentially a splendid match on the fast synthetic carpet that both players love -- and the other doubles semifinal, Evert Lloyd and Rosemary Casals against Turnbull and Betty Stove.
In today's matinee session, yesterday's losers will get a chance to salve their wounds. Marsikova plays Reid at 1 p.m., following by Fromholtz against Turnbull.
This afternoon's victors will have 1-1 records and will go against tonight's losers (also 1-1) Friday to determine the last two semifinal berths in singles. Tonight's winners will take their 2-0 records and proceed directly to Saturday's semis.
Before this final playoff for the top eight singles players and top four doubles teams in the 1979 Colgate Series of 33 tournaments began, Evert Lloyd was asked if the singles weren't really a matter of four queens stacked up against four jokers.
"Well, I would have to put my money on the top four, but with Fromholtz, for instance, you can never tell," she replied, trying her best to be as diplomatic as she is steady from the backcourt.
"Fromholtz has beaten me three times, and has beaten Martina a couple of times, so you never can tell with her. She could put together a streak of four or five great matches and win it. But honestly, I would have to bet on the top four."
So would any sensible person, and yesterday's matches showed why. Turnbull, Reid, Fromholtz and Marsikova -- Nos. 5 through 8 in the season-long point standings for 1979 -- are fine players, but Navratilova, Evert Lloyd, Austin and Goolagong live in a higher echelon.
Goolagong had no trouble whatsoever against Marsikova, who took her to three sets in both their 1979 meetings. Those were on clay, the 21-year-old Czech's favorite surface. On the quick and low-bouncing "Sporteze" carpet that is laid atop the basketball floor and ice at Capital Centre, Marsikova never looked comfortable.
"I couldn't concentrate today. I was just looking all over the place," said Marsikova, who never held serve and made numerous unforced errors, especially on the forehand. She had trouble with her timing, frequently mis-hitting the heavy topspin strokes that are the foundation of her baseline game.
"Regina was a lot more erratic than she was the two times we played last year, and at the same time I feel that I'm playing a lot more consistent now than I was then," said Goolagong, who saved a break point in a long first game, broke after four deuces in the second, and then started rolling.
"The first few games were real important because they set my rhythm for the whole match," said Goolagong. "I felt quite good today, especially because in the first match you usually feel a bit nervous, particularly in a big tournament like this . . . Normally I don't like to start off playing well. I like to fight for points early."
Navratilova left her calling card in the first game. She was sharp, serving and volleying mightily, pouncing on a net cord ball at 40-0 and putting away a backhand winner with a disdainful flick of her powerful wrist.
She went on to win 36 of 39 points in her eight service games. She broke Reid once in the first set -- at love in the fourth game -- and again from 40-0 in the first game of the second set to take control.
"I'm very happy, definitely, with the way I played today," said the expatriate Czech left-hander. 'I was surprised that I served so well because my serve hasn't been working very well in the last few months, and especially the last couple of weeks in practice.
"It's usually the best part of my game, but when my dad (her family arrived from Czechoslovakia on Dec. 17) saw me play, he said, 'Everything's great, but your serve stinks."
Why the improvement yesterday?
"I was just trying to go through the proper technique: concentrating on the toss in the right place, on reaching up for the ball, on my rhythm most of all," she said. "But even when I was doing that in practice, I couldn't get the rhythm. Today I did. So it might just be the competiion that gets everything all right."
"The competition" -- summoning that intangible quality champions have of rising at the most critical, pressurized moments in a match -- also brought out the best in Evert Lloyd.
She trailed, 1-3, in the second set, broke right back in the next game, then climbed out of a 0-40 hole in the most important game of the match with three vintage backhand cross-court winners.
That started her on a spree of 11 unanswered points, taking her to a 4-3, 30-0 lead. Evert Lloyd did squander three match points on errors she would not have committed at her sharpest, but grasped the fourth as Fromholtz sailed a backhand long.
Fromholtz -- who upset Evert Lloyd on the opening day of this tournament two years ago, only to watch her come back and win it -- was rusty after a four-week layoff and overaggressive with a new graphite racket. ("It's like the inside of a lead pencil," she said of the material comprising her red-painted frame.)
It is her nature to hit out on the ball, and she was consistently over-hitting it with the new racket that has more power than that of her old wooden frame. In the first set, she was sailing balls hither and yon. In the second, she settled down, but Every Lloyd was best when behind.
"As soon as I was behind, I just started hitting out," said Evert Lloyd. "Until then, it was Dianne who was really cracking her ground strokes, dominating most of the rallies that I usually dominate from the baseline.
"It gets to the point where you're just not playing your own game. I got a little annoyed with myself and started going for my shots."
Austin had so little trouble with the ragged, listless Turnbull that she said, "I think I played well, but it's hard to tell, I think Wendy had an off night."
That was putting it politely. Turnbull was so bad that she won only 25 points. She lost her serve in the first game and gave a hint of things to come in the second when she hit a backhand wide to the left, a forehand to the right, a return long and another into the net. In short, she was missing in every possible way.
"I think I was suffering from a bit of jet lag," said Turnbull, who made the 30-hour flight from Australia to Washington last Friday but is still feeling the symptoms of an upside-down body clock. "When I found out my first match was at night I tried to stay up, but every night I was conking out at 9 p.m."
Turnbull said she couldn't remember she was last whupped so embarrassingly. It was probably the final of the 1979 French Open, where Evert Lloyd beat her 6-2, 6-0.
Austin had lost to Turnbull in two of three previous career meetings, most recently in Atlanta in September. Now she has squared that, and is looking forward eagerly to Evert Lloyd.
Austin has beaten Evert Lloyd in their last two meetings, the final of the Open and the semifinals of a tournamentin Stuttgart in October, where Austin celebrated her first anniversary as a professional by winning her second Porsche.
She thought she should would be ranked No. 1 in the U.S., based on her Open triumph and 4-2 record over Every Lloyd on the year. She was disappointed to be ranked behind Evert Lloyd. She hopes to take her disappointment out on her tonight.