Anne Smith is on the brink of making an amazing tennis fairy tale come true.

That's right, folks, "Pepper" Smith did it again last night.

For the third time in four days at the Avon Championships of Washington, the unseeded Smith upset one of the seven top-ranked women in the world.

"Just call me 'Awesome Annie,' " said Smith with a huge grin as she walked off the court at Capital Centre last night after blitzing a befuddled Sylvia Hanika, 6-3, 6-4, in their semifinal match, needing only 62 minutes.

Even "awesome" doesn't begin to do Smith's feat justice.

For the first time in her life, the 22-year-old has reached the final of a pro tournament. On Monday night at 7 p.m. in the Centre, the scampering 117-pounder will face Martina Navratilova, No. 3 in the world, in the championship match: $40,000 to the winner.

Yesterday afternoon, Navratilova won the other semifinal in a grueling and dramatic match with gallant Barbara Potter, 7-6 (7-2), 6-7 (7-4), 6-3.

However, the brilliance of the Navratilova-Potter war fades beside Smith's uncanny, storybook week in Washington. "Boy, do I love this town," Smith said.

On Wednesday, Smith licked the peppermint stripes off Tracy Austin, the No. 2-ranked player in the world, 6-3, 6-1, in only 75 minutes. It was a complete one-sided crunch that left Austin so numb that, out of psychic self-defense, she blamed her own awful play for her defeat instead of crediting Smith.

"That's all right, Tracy," said a laughing Smith, "I'll give myself credit."

On Friday, Pam Shriver, the No. 7 woman in the world, who thought she was playing as well as ever in her life, walked into the Smith buzz saw and was chewed to bits, 6-3, 6-4, in just 63 minutes.

"Gee, this feels even better than the other one," said Smith, who is perhaps the greatest woman's doubles player in the world, but who never has made much of a ripple in singles.

Last night before 9,200 fans, Smith won a very one-sided match. Dig this: Smith served 10 games and in those 10 games, Hanika, the sixth-ranked player in the world, managed a total of six points. That's right, six points off Smith's serve in the whole match. And one was a double fault. In only one game did Hanika get as many as two points.

Smith broke Hanika's last service game of the first set and her first service game of the second set, and that was that. Hanika was so helpless against Smith's deep serves, wildly aggressive volleys and general "whale the tar out of the ball" approach that she seemed completely demoralized throughout the second set. You know you're going bad when your one fan in the crowd keeps yelling, "Come on, Hanna." And your name is Sylvia.

"The way Anne is playing right now," said Hanika, "she could beat Martina on Monday." Then Hanika laughed: "She could beat anybody right now."

Smith's first question after leaving the court was, "How much time?"

Told it took 62 minutes, as opposed to her previous 75- and 63-minute upsets, Smith beamed with delight.

"I'm gettin' better," she said.

For a reasonably consistent, but generally unspectacular player who never has been ranked higher than 15th in the world (currently 16th), this week of Smith's qualifies as pure fantasy. Not only has Smith never been to the final of a pro event before but, before last night, she had made it only to one semifinal in her career.

"I haven't felt a bit of pressure," said Smith who, teamed with Kathy Jordan, has won all four of the Grand Slam doubles titles within the past two seasons. "I'm just having a good time. And trying not to think about it too much."

Actually, it would be hard for Smith to worry about what she is accomplishing because nobody on the women's tennis circuit can figure out precisely the magnitude of what she's done, or what it might mean if she could upset Navratilova.

Has anybody who was not in the top 10 herself ever before knocked off so many players so highly ranked in one event? Nobody can remember a similar case. But it can't be proved either way.

However, if Smith beats Navratilova--and thus whips the Nos. 2, 3, 6 and 7 ranked players in the world within six days--somebody's going to have to do a lot of digging through a lot of archives to find out whether there is any precedent.

As an added twist to Smith's accomplishments, she came within one point of never making it past the first round here. Mary Lou Piatek had Smith pushed to the wall of match point before she escaped.

If the Smith match was utterly one-sided, then Navratilova's match was a miniclassic.

Sometimes, even in defeat, a young player can announce her imminent arrival.

That's what Potter did in her gallant loss to Navratilova.

Navratilova's excellence is a tennis given. Potter's blossoming game made a sparsely attended (5,200) Saturday matinee special.

Potter, 20, and 10th in the world after only three years of serious tennis, is a player on the verge of moving from very good to near-great. If Smith is this week's conspicuous arrival on the scene, then Potter is not far behind.

Men's tennis has John McEnroe --Mack the Knife.

Now, women's tennis has Potter --Barbara the Blade.

"No, I don't play like McEnroe," said Potter after a match she might have won in two sets, but for lack of experience. "I think McEnroe plays like me."

Both McEnroe and Potter strive to slice up opponents with a repertoire of southpaw serves, volleys and overheads that cut so suddenly, and slash from such severe angles, that foes feel they're trying to defend two courts at once.

"There's quite a similarity of styles between McEnroe and me," she said, "but I don't have a fraction of his understanding of how to handle big matches or play big points."


The day may soon come, however, when Potter, who squandered six first-set break points, is not so profligate. Or, as she says, "so incredibly impetuous and dumb."

For Navratilova, who lost only one point on her serve in the final set, this was just a tough day at the office.

For Potter, this was an on-the-way-up day to remember.