Martina Navratilova and Andrea Jaeger, who finished one-two in the point standings for the winter women's tennis tour and between them won six of 10 tournaments, reached the final of its climactic playoff today in the eight-woman, $300,000 Avon Championships at Madison Square Garden.
Navratilova, at 24 the oldest of the eight qualifiers, increased her record for the winter tour to 27-2 by beating 17-year-old Bettina Bunge, 6-2, 7-5.
Jaeger, the youngest participant at 15, let a commanding lead vanish and had to fight back from 0-2 down in the final set to subdue stubborn Sylvia Hanika, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, in an interesting 2 1/2-hour struggle that crackled with an undercurrent of hostility.
In the absence of vacationing Chris Evert Lloyd and injured Tracy Austin, the top-ranked players in women's tennis, the winter circuit has been primarily the Martina and Andrea Show. So it will Sunday, with Navratilova and Jaeger playing for a $100,000 top prize in a rubber match.
Jaeger beat Navratilova in the final of the circuit opener at Kansas City to increase her career record against the expatriate Czech left-hander to 3-0, but Navratilova won their most recent encounter, in the final at Los Angeles three weeks ago, 6-4, 6-0.
Bunte, a talented but relatively inexperienced player who was born in Switzerland of German parents, grew up in Peru, and lives in Florida, had trouble with her serve. She was under constant pressure as Navratilova attacked every second serve and got to the net.
Bunge is a smart player with an impressive range of strokes but she started to late and missed too many easy volleys. By the time she got into the match and made Navratilova play well, the tournament favorite -- champion in 1979, runner-up to Austin last year -- had settled into a powerful rhythm.
Jaeger was expected to have little trouble against Hanika, a 20-year-old left-hander whom she had beaten six times in 12 straight sets, including a 6-2, 6-3 victory Thursday evening in the round-robin portion of this tournament.
That match had ended with Jaeger in tears, however. Hanika, apparently, had been cursing her under her breath in German -- unpleasantries that Jaeger understands -- and had called her a rude name when they shook hands at the end of the match.
"I like her very much outside the court, but inside the court I don't think she's so nice," Hanika said today. The mutual dislike surface in the first set when Hanika drilled a volley into Jaeger's midsection, and the spunky youngster swore under her breath and shook a menacing fist at Hanika.