Honestly, it seemed a bit unfair. Of course, Martina Navratilova wouldn't think so. You can't think that way and win. And you can't say it afterwards without appearing graceless and uppity.
So when she was asked later whether it was unfair how good she was, beating Anne Smith, 6-2, 6-3, in the final of the Avon Championships of Washington at Capital Centre, Navratilova smiled and said, simply, "No."
"Sometimes, it flashes through my head if I'm up, 6-0 or 5-0, I should lose a game because I feel sorry for them. Then I think, 'You dumb dodo. If they were winning, they wouldn't feel sorry for you.' I shouldn't feel sorry for them, but I do. If you're playing really well, you wonder what they're thinking. It's a great feeling. You're just unbeatable sometimes."
Last night was one of those times. Navratilova simply overwhelmed Smith, who had merely overwhelmed the tournament (and the first, fourth and fifth seeds) up until then. The beating was thorough and definitive.
As she accepted the first place $40,000 check, Navratilova glanced up at the Capital Centre TelScreen and staggered backwards at the sight of herself 50 feet high. She must have seemed that big to Smith all night. Midway through the match, Smith turned to no one in particular and said, "What am I suppposed to do?"
There wasn't anything to do. Thankfully, Smith's longest night lasted just an hour. She played well enough, just not well enough to beat Navratilova, who was near her best. Tour referee Lee Jackson, who umpired the match said, "Martina has everything. She used it all . . .
"Her touch was sure and she was sure of herself."
That is the key to Navratilova. She has all the shots--half volleys, forehand and backhand passing shots, backhand drop volleys, vicious low returns--and used all but one. "My topspin lob," she said. "I didn't get a chance."
In the first set, Smith was unable to hold her serve. Navratilova was relentless, breaking Smith's serve in the first game (after she saved two break points) with a running cross-court winner.
Smith, who was admittedly nervous playing in her first professional singles final, pulled herself together and broke right back to even the set, 1-1. But Navratilova was having none of it. She broke back to go ahead in the set for good, without allowing Smith a point on her serve. There were moments during the match when time seemed to slow, while Navratilova considered her options. Other times, she was merely emphatic. The last point of the game was a backhand winner on the return of serve that went "boing."
In the second set, Smith played better, volleyed better, but to no avail. Again, Navratilova broke her in the first game of the set. A backhand passing shot made it 15-40, a wicked return of serve at Smith's feet ended the game. And again, Smith broke right back. Not so fast, she said. Navratilova fought off six break points, before Smith won the game on a forehand cross-court volley.
It was the best game of the match, Smith's best game of the night. She extended herself and Navratilova as much as she could, making a wonderfully unreturnable half-lob over Navratilova's head in the process. "I didn't want to disappoint myself or the people who came out," she said. "I said, 'God, she's just steamrolling me. It helped when I won that game."
And when she held serve in the next game (a love game), it was the first and only time all night that she won two consecutive games.
But Navratilova only gave up two more points on her serve during the match. Serving easily (usually wide to Smith's backhand), and returning as easily, she broke Smith's serve to go ahead, 4-3. It went like this: a running forehand winner down the line, 0-15; a volley by Smith that went wide, 0-30; another forehand winner, this one a cross-court passing shot, 0-40.
Smith won three points (saving three break points) and some self-esteem, to go to deuce. Navratilova stopped cursing herself long to enough to deliver the knockout punch, a wicked one-two combination. A forehand winner down the line made it her ad, and a forehand cross-court winner off the return of serve made it her game.
"The ball felt so good off the racket," Navratilova said. "It's a great feeling. Sometimes after five minutes of practice, you know you're okay. Sometimes, you can practice two hours and know you still won't play well."
At 4-3, the ambiguity was long gone. Navratilova won the next two games and the match. But it ended on a bittersweet note. Navratilova made a great defensive lob, and Smith smashed it back across the net. Belatedly, she realized it had been called long.
She stood at the base line, her face a mask of disbelief. But a week ago, no one would have believed that Smith, who was unseeded and ranked 16th in the world, would have gotten this far, defeating three women ranked in the top 10 in the process. Ironically, that is exactly what Navratilova did the first time she played in Washington in 1975, when she was the unseeded one.
Last week in Dallas, where both women live, Navratilova saw Smith at a practice court and told her, "It's about time you got to a final."
It just wasn't time for her to win it. Asked what she had learned this week, Smith said, "I can do it."
As Navratilova walked over to offer her congratulations, it seemed only appropriate that she was carrying a can of Dr. Pepper--Smith's drink--the one that says, "Be a Pepper."
Last night, Navratilova beat one.