When Jack Kramer won the Wimbledon singles in 1947, ushering in the era of the "big game" of serve and volley in tennis, a longtime British writer marveled at his devastating power and referred to him as "a presence of unutterable awe."
Last evening, in winning the $250,000 Colgate Series Championship on a fast synthetic carpet at Capital Centre, Martina Navratilova was something like that, and deserved a similar accolade. That most overused of sports superlatives -- "awesome" -- could truly and unequivocally be bestowed on her this night.
Combining a relentless serve and-volley attack with quickness and remarkable touch, Navratilova overwhelmed Tracy Austin, 6-2, 6-1.
The match lacked drama, but it was not disappointing for a crowd of 9,200 because it provided a vision of what the "big game" for women can be when it is played to near prefection.
Navratilova had lost to Austin four times in a row last fall, starting with the seminfinals of the U.S. Open, which Austin went on to win.
This time she came out hungry and devoured the 17-year-old princess of the baselin e, losing only eight points in the second set -- including the game she lost.
"Cracking, wasn't she," lauded another veteran English writer at courtside, Laurie Pignon of London's Daily Mail. "That is how a two-time Wimbledon champion should play."
Chris Evert Lloyd, who was badly beaten by Austin twice during the tournament, defeated Wendy Turnball, 6-1, 6-1, for third place. Lloyd won $22,000 and Turnbull, $17,000.
Austin likes to convey an ingenuous, Little Red Riding Hood image -- the sweet teen in pigtails, even though she is one tough cookie underneath -- but yesterday Navratilova played the wolf, gobbling her up much to the delight of an audience that has seen the cold steel beneath Austin's matching peach pinafore and pom-pons.
Little Austin wasn't exactly, "My, what big volleys you have," but she did the next best thing in the presentation ceremonies after receiving the runner-up's check for $40,000.
"First, I'd like to say that Martina played awfully, well. "W-h-e-w!" she told the crowd. "I've never seen her play this well. She made about one error the whole match."
That was an exaggeration, of course, but not much of one. Navratilova played on a supreme high of confidence, jerking Austin out of position with deep serves and closing in for full-blooded volleys . . . cracking outright winners from the backcourt, especially with her oppressive forehead . . . chipping backhands and swooping the net . . . flicking half-volley winners with extraordinary touch and strength.
In beating Kerry Reid, 6-3, 6-0; Evonne Goolagong Cawley, 6-3, 6-2; Wendy Turnbull, 62, 6-0; and Austin yesterday, Navratilova lost her serve only twice and lost only 39 points in 32 service games, and extraordinary figure.
"I just felt the ball really well on my racket. I had good touch when I was warming up before with Rosie (Casals). She said, "You need some more?' and I said, 'No, I'm fine.' I was feeling the ball so well on the racket I didn't need to hit anymore, because I didn't think I could feel any better," Navrtilov said.
And that's the way I felt the whole match. I felt I could make any shot, and I almost did. I don't know if I've ever been more consistent and overpowering at the same time throughout a whole match. Or a whole tournament."
This scintillating performance earned Navratilova a check for $75,000 and a new car, and erased any doubt as to who was the No. 1 woman player of 1979.
Navratilova had won more tournaments (12) and more prize money than any other woman coming into the final playoff for the top eight singles players and top four doubles teams in the 1979 Colgate Series of 33 tournaments around the globe.
She also had winning records against all her cheif rivals, but Austin's four straight victories over her in the fall had cast doubts on her supremacy in some minds, even though Martina had won the Avon Championships and Wimbledon while Austin's only major title was the U.S. Open.
"I don't like the whole No. 1 ranking to come down to one tournament because I don't think that's really fair. So even if Tracy had beaten me here, we would have been 2-2 head-on-head in major championships, 6-6 overall for the year, but I would have had fewer bad losses and more wins and a winning record against every player," Navratilova pointed out, correctly.
"But people still have a tendency to think of the last few tournaments for the rankings -- same as happened 1st year against Chris (Evert). I feel I had the edge, but because she was beating me towards the end of the year, she got the No. 1 ranking. But this just leaves all doubts aside, hopefully."
Navratilova, 23, has a history of playing badly after Wimbledon. She has never reached the final of the U.S. Open. Her record in the fall has ranged from tepid to awful the last two years, after marvelous winters, springs, and summers.
She admits to getting complacent last autumn, playing tournaments rather indifferently and not training during or between them. But she worked hard in December at her home in Dallas, getting into superb condition and practicing daily with Bill Scanlon, who plays on the men's tour.She came into the new year with a lean and hungry look, and Austin was the tasty morsel she wanted most.
"I was hungry, because I did lose to Tracy the last four times we played, quite decisively three of those times, and people think that I have some kind of psychological thing against Tracy. But it's just when I play well I win, when I don't I lose. It's that simple," she said.
"Today I was really ready, and I wasn't scared. The last few times I played Tracy I was trying to preserve victory, not really going after the shots, which you have to do. You can't just play it safe against players like Chris and Tracy. You've just got to got for it.
"I kept telling myself that, and I never did ease up. It would have been very easy to do that after the first set, but I kept going the same way."
The speed of the surface favored her, and Navratilova came out slugging. She has more weight of shot than any other woman player, and when she is on top of her game, more variety as well. Last night may well have been her greatest.
The first game announced her presence.
Two points she won with good serves to the forehand that Austin returned into the net. One she won off one of the evening's few long rallis, slicing a succession of comfortable backhands and then exploding a top spin cross-court winner. Whoosh.
Then she sealed the game at love with stretching forehand half-volley so exquisite that it sent shivers of admiration through the crowd. All the assembled hackers would gladly have given their Fila track suits to have the pleasure of hitting such a shot just once in their lives. Navratilova was to make several more of the same ilk in the next 45 minutes, including one to break Austin for the first time in the fourth game.
Navratilova lost her serve for the only time in the next game, missing four of six first serves and pushing a backhand long on the final point. But thereafter her presence took on those shades of unutterable awe. Sparks practically flew from her racket.
The match moved along at a brisk pace, consuming only 48 minutes.
"We didn't have any long rallies, which I like because I don't want to let Tracy get into a good rhythm," said Navratilova. "I know I need the change up the way I hit the shot all the time, and I can only do that when I'm playing well. I'm not playing well, then it's hard to change the pace and the spin and the angle all the time."
But she was playing so magnificently that she did all those clever things, and overpowered Austin as well -- sending her scampering all over the court for squealing gropes at balls she could touch barely, if at all.
"When you're hot, you're hot," shrugged Robert Lansdorp, Austin's coach. "I think Tracy played Martina's forehand, her strength, way too early. She didn't miss a forehand, and some of them were just unbelievable. But even if Tracy had played her backhand all night, it might not have been any different. . . . That's the best I've ever seen Martina play."
The standard of play in the first set was exceptional, but when Navratilova broke Austin's serve with ferocious net play in the sixth and eighth games, she took complete control.
They had played 18 times previously, Navratilova winning 11 of them, and curiously only two meetings have gone to a third set. Usually whoever leads early wins, and so it was last night. When Navratilova got rolling, she was STEAM-rolling . . . putting away stretching, backpedaling overheads . . . drilling forceful volleys at wicked angles . . . blending muscle with touch, perhaps as impressively as any woman ever has.