Chris Evert Lloyd, in Washington yesterday to help publicize the draw for the upcoming $250,000 Colgate Series Championship at Capital Centre, found herself in the ticklish position of having to reach into a punchbowl and fish out the name of a colleague to go into the same half of the elite, eight-woman field with her and Australian Wendy Turnbull. she closed her eyes, wrinkled her nose sheepishly and picked defending champion Martina Navratilova. Suddendly reality hit her. She might have to play the two-time Wimbledon champion on opening day of the tournament, Jan. 7.
"That's unbelievable! Are you sure?" she said.
Now a flip of the coin would decide whether Navratilova -- who has been in a slump and fallen to No. 3 in the world rankings behind Evert and Tracy Austin, but is still a tough customer on a fast indoor carpet -- would play Evert or Turnbull in her first match.
"Gee, I'd better have a drink," Evert said, reaching for a glass of unspiked tomato juice, much to the amusement of the Bloody Mary set attending the noontime festivities at the Four Seasons Hotel.
"If it's heads, I'll play Martina. If it's tails, Wendy will play her," said Evert, who would have preferred that somebody else make the draw.
Bostonian Edy McGoldrick, executive director of the tournament, flipped a half-dollar. All eyes watched it do somersaults and fall to the table.
"Tails," McGoldrick announced "Navratilova plays Turnbull."
"Whew!" Evert said, relieved.
Not that she gets off easy. Her first-round opponent will be Pam Shriver, 18, the 6-foot "Great Whomping Crane" from Lutherville, Md., who can be troublesome for any foe on a fast court if her big serve is in harness. They will play the second evening match Jan. 7, following an attractive 7 o'clock encounter between Andrea Jaeger, 15, and U.S. Open runner-up Hana Mandlikova, 18, the two brightest ascending stars of women's tennis in 1980.
The afternoon pairings that day aren't too shabby, either, Navratilova olay Turnbull, who has beaten her in their two meetings this fall, at 1, followed by Austin against Virginia Ruzici. Not bad for a Wednesday Matinee.
The point is, there really are no "soft" early round matches in this tournament, which uses a unique format that is a hybrid of traditional round robin and "knockout" formats.
The women play their first two matches within their group of four. Mandlikova, Austin, Jaeger and Ruzici make up one quartet; Evert, Turnbull, Navratilova and Shriver the other. Players who win their first two matches qualify for the semifinals and earn a day of rest. Those who are 0-2 are eliminated, and play a consolation for seventh place.
Those who are 1-1 cross over to the other group and play for the remaining semifinal berths. Thus, the two women who end up with 2-1 records join those who are 2-0 in the semis Saturday evening, Jan. 10. The two who finish 1-2 play each other for fifth place. Sunday, Jan. 11, is a day off, and the semifinal winners meet Monday evening to decide the $55,000 first prize.
There is also a four-team doubles competition. Kathy Jordan and Anne Smith, the French Open and Wimbledon champions, play Candy Reynolds and Paula Smith Jan. 7. Turnbull and Rosemary Casals play Shriver and Betty Stove the next night. The winners meet Jan. 9 to determine the $30,000 top prize.
As the colmination of the 1980 Colgate Series of 39 tournaments around the world, the Washington showdown is an all-star event, the de facto final playoff for the top eight point-winners of the 1980 season, a week into the new year. The only conspicuous absentee is Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley, the Wimbledon champion who is expecting her second child next summer and likely will retire from competition.
In previous years, the Colgate showdown has provided the last word in determining the No. 1 player for the preceding season, but this year Evert comes into the finale with that honor effectively wrapped up. She won the Italian, French and U.S. Open titles in 1980, was runner-up at Wilbledon and compiled a remarkable 58-3 record (losing only to Goolagong at Wimbledon, Mandlikova in Atlanta and Navratilova in Tokyo) after returning in May from a four-month sabbatical. None of her rivals has such a consistently strong record.
"I would like to think that the rankings have already been decided. I would be surprised if I wasn't No. 1," said Evert, who has been irritated at Austin and Navratilova's apparent reluctance to concede the top spot. They keep reminding people that Evert skipped most of the 1980 indoor season after Austin drubbed her three times in the opening weeks of the year, and that in her absence Navratilova and Austin reigned supreme until Wimbledon.
"I just think that I've had a great year, and I don't think that doing poorly in one tournament would make that much difference," Evert said. "I'm just saying if worse came to worst and I didn't win a match here, I don't see how that would cost me No. 1 for the year. The Colgate Series Championship is still one level below Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and I think when they advertise it as the tournament that will decide who's No. 1, that's just a publicity thing. I don't really feel that's true deep inside."
That is not to say it is not important.
"It definitely is to be considered a major tournament because the top eight players are playing," Evert said, "and I like the format for two reasons: You don't have any easy warm-up matchers, so you have to produce your best tennis right from the beginning, and even if you do lose one match you can still be in the tournament. This format allows you to have one bad night and still be right in it."