The last time Chris Evert Lloyd and Hana Mandlikova met in the final of a Grand Slam event, at Wimbledon in 1981, Evert was astounded when Mandlikova glanced at a picture of Mo Connolly and blithely asked, "Who's that?"
Kids, no sense of history at all. When they meet Saturday afternoon in the final of the U.S. Open, Evert, who today tied the record for most Open match wins (65, set by Molla Mallory from 1915-1929), will be seeking her sixth Open title, Mandlikova her first. Will Mandlikova learn another history lesson? Does she understand Evert's place in that history?
Evert pursed her lips, glanced toward the locker room, and smiled. "I'm going to go right in and tell her," she said.
They will meet in the final, just as they did two years ago, one of Evert's 11 wins in 13 matches against Mandlikova. Today, Evert's sense of purpose and history carried her past Andrea Jaeger, who at 17, may not have enough of either, 6-1, 6-2, and Mandlikova's creativity and imagination defied Pam Shriver, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
The women's final will be sandwiched between the men's semifinals pairing Jimmy Connors against Guillermo Vilas and defending champion John McEnroe against Ivan Lendl (WDVM-TV-9, beginning at noon).
It has been a difficult year for Mandlikova and Evert. Mandlikova was sidelined almost four months with a back injury and has not won a tournament. Evert has won five tournaments this year but not yet a Grand Slam event. She has won at least one in each of the last eight years. "It's hard for me to keep up the momentum" except for the major championships, Evert said. "Time is running out."
Certainly, it ran out on Jaeger. The match was everything you expected -- a succession of formidable groundstrokes -- and less. Jaeger said she played "really lousy," and didn't give Evert much of a match. She made 35 unforced errors, broke once and held serve only twice. "Wherever she hit the ball, I just sauntered over and hit it back," she said.
Evert said it wasn't as easy as it looked. True, there were six deuce games. True, Jaeger, the No. 4 seed, came close to winning the first three games of the second set. Serving the first game of the second set, Evert fell behind, 15-40. Evert saved the first break point with a forehand volley. The second proved more telling. Jaeger hit a lob that Evert watched, considered, and let drop, just long. Even she wasn't sure. She asked the linesman if he was sure of his call. He said he was.
It was deuce. Jaeger made two unforced errors and lost her best chance. Jaeger held, and again, Evert fell behind, 0-40, on her serve. Evert won the next five points; Jaeger dropped her racket and the next game. "If Andrea had won the first game, it could have been 3-0 in 10 minutes," Evert said.
Instead, when Jaeger fell behind, 0-40, in the fourth game, and then hit a a backhand cross court wide, it was 3-1 Evert.
Jaeger finally got a break, thanks to nice backhand drop shot and it was 3-2. But she won only two more points. Evert, who appeared to want the match, and the title, which will make her third on the all-time list of Open winners, as much as she ever wanted anything from tennis, said, "When you are younger, you play looser and figure if you don't win it you have 10 more years. But at 27, it's now or never. Maybe this'll be the last time."
Maybe it will be the first time for Mandlikova. In 1980, she said, "I felt the pressure. I was so happy and so high. But I'm older (20) now."
Shriver had beaten the No. 1 player in the world, Martina Navratilova, to advance to the semifinals. Though she said there was no letdown, Mandlikova thought otherwise. Both seemed tentative in the beginning and played less than glorious tennis on a glorious day for it.
Things escalated in the second set. Shriver, who was volleying well, took the initiative, breaking in the second game, after Mandlikova had gone ahead, 40-0. Shriver held to make it 3-0, and broke again in the sixth, with a lovely backhand stretch volley that crossed the net and died, and again in the eighth to win the set.
Mandlikova is a streaky player in every sense: inconsistent, since she goes for so many winners (for the lines against Shriver, since her reach is so great). But when she hits the ball well, it seems to streak across the court.
In the third set, she began to streak. Strangely, Shriver kept hitting to her backhand. Not so strangely, Mandlikova, who had 15 backhand winners, began hitting out. Her strength increased. Shriver's volleys lost their sting.
Shriver served first. At 30-15, the two women who had hung back surprisingly often earlier in the match faced each other at the net. Shriver lunged for a backhand volley. Mandlikova glided toward it, hit an impossibly graceful backhand cross-court volley that defied even Shriver's reach.
At 30-30, Mandlikova made a strong backhand return at Shriver's feet, something she was trying to do all day. It worked and Mandlikova had a break point. It was an instant replay: another lunging backhand volley by Shriver, another backhand cross-court volley by Mandlikova.
She held easily for 2-0. Shriver struggled, coming back from 15-30, to make it 2-1. Now came the game of the match. Shriver had two break points and wasted them. At 30-40, Mandlikova saved the first break point with a strong serve and a strong forehand cross-court volley. On the second break point, Shriver netted a backhand return of the best second serve of the day. "If I could have broken her and made it 2-2, it's anybody's business," Shriver said.
But she didn't. The crowd exhorted Shriver, who lost to Evert in 1978, to no avail. "I love the people and I hope they love me," Mandlikova said.
When it was over, Shriver headed for the net for the traditional handshake. But Mandlikova's hand was extended upwards in a victory salute, not outwards. "I think she got mad because I didn't shake her hand first," Mandlikova said. "I just put my hand up because I was happy."
Shriver said, "I just like when I shake hands to be looked in the eye, get some respect. When she looked like this," Shriver glanced sideways, "I wasn't too interested. Finally she looked at me and wouldn't let go of my hand. I thought she was going pull me over the net."
She will have a hard time pulling history over the net Saturday.