While most of the adult world was busy at the dry cleaner, Martina Navratilova and Barbara Potter played a Saturday afternoon tennis match full of tension, animation and personality at Capital Centre.
It was the kind of match that bodes well for women's tennis, although only about 5,200 people saw it. That Navratilova won also bodes well for the Avon Championships of Washington, which already had lost Tracy Austin, Andrea Jaeger and Pam Shriver.
It is a heavy burden, being the sole remaining drawing card. "I made it to the final, the promoter should be happy," Navratilova said, in obvious good humor. "I've done my duty. They have their star. Now, I better win, also."
Beyond the many marvelous moments of tennis, the match offered a marvelous insight into the Americanized Czech with the droll wit and a very serious passion for the Dallas Cowboys.
At 3-3 in the first set, Potter fell behind on her serve, 0-30. Navratilova played two bad points to let her back into the game. Potter hit a deft forehand cross-court drop shot, that Navratilova could not reach, to go up, 40-30. Navratilova came in on the run, late, angry at herself. So, as long as she was there, she took a whack at the ball and knocked it 60 feet. The chair umpire, Sue Benson, gave her a conduct warning.
Navratilova was shocked and appalled. "Don't you think that's a bit excessive for what I did?" she asked. Benson shook her head, no.
Navratilova shook her head. Potter served out the game.
On the sideline, at the change, Navratilova buried her head in a bright orange towel, talking to herself. She was feeling put out and blue. Her nose was red. And it wasn't just from the cold she has had all week. She was, she said, crying "a little bit."
"I was very upset," she said. "I felt like I was in grade school and the teacher slapped my hand and said, 'No, no, no, you can't slap the ball.' Please . . . I didn't hit the ball at anybody. I didn't even hit it that hard. I was so upset I thought I might lose the set over it. If it had been Chris Evert or Tracy Austin that had done it, no way they would have been given a warning."
Why, she was asked. "You know why," she said, "because of the reputation".
She meant her reputation, which is surely outdated, for being a hothead. Certainly, it galls her that after all these years of working to become an American, a top player and a top drawing card, that she is not treated as the others are. It is also a good indication of just how vulnerable she is.
Before play resumed, tour referee Lee Jackson approached the chair and told Benson she was rescinding the penalty. "I sure did," she said. "The players have got to be able to express something . . . It's like stubbing your toe and not being allowed to say ouch."
As Jackson walked back to her seat, she whispered the news to Navratilova, "Forget it, it was not a conduct." It is no coincidence that Navratilova went out and served her best game of the set, a love game, at that.
"I got tougher," she said. "I was more focused from that point on. Even though it helped in the long run, I didn't appreciate it."
As she walked back onto the court, there were cheers, "Let's go, Martina," and, "It's all right." Surely, she must have appreciated that.