Tennis players, with minds like video cassette recorders, can replay a point in memory that took place when they were 3 years old. So, it is not surprising that Martina Navratilova, whose mind is as sharp as her game, can seize the moment she began to lose to Sylvia Hanika in the final of the Avon Championships last March.
Navratilova was cruising in the second set, on the way to her 25th straight victory and an aura of invincibility. Up a break at 3-1, she "played not to lose," she said. "She (Hanika) won a deuce game. She hit a let cord. I hit a winner and missed the pass by that much. I would have been up 4-1. Then she started rolling, making unbelievable passing shots."
Hanika went on to an unbelievable 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory. It was the first of only three losses Navratilova had all year.
They will go at it again tonight at 7:30 in the final of the Virginia Slims of Washington at Capital Centre. The winner will earn $28,000, the loser $14,000. "I'll be more than up to play," said Navratilova, the No. 1 seed, the No. 1 player in the world.
It has taken Navratilova precisely 3 hours 13 minutes in four previous matches to reach the final. She has not played a seeded player and her serve has been broken only twice, in her semifinal win over Mary Lou Piatek.
Hanika, the sixth seed, and the 10th-ranked player, had a much tougher time, twice going three sets. She upset Hana Mandlikova (No. 3) in the quarters and Andrea Jaeger (No. 2) in the semis. Afterward, Hanika said it felt like she had hit "10 million balls."
"If they played Sunday, she'd probably lose in record time," Jaeger said. "But since she has a day off and Martina hasn't had a tough match . . . It'll be a match."
She shrugged. "Two lefties. It just depends on how Sylvia plays, if Martina is on. Sylvia all of a sudden can come back (the way she did at the Avon Championships). If anything, that will help Martina."
Hanika said she will not be intimidated, having beaten Navratilova in March, the high point of her career. The low point? "A lot of them," she said, including a torn shoulder muscle that sidelined her for two months last fall.
Navratilova is 7-2 against her, 2-1 in three-setters, 3-1 in tie breakers. "I'll play three or four games and see how it goes," Hanika said.
She may be more threatening to Navratilova than Jaeger would have been because she can come in as well as pass. But Hanika is likely to encounter a different Navratilova than the one she beat last spring.
Navratilova mixes up her game a lot more--as she did Saturday against Piatek, staying back, as well as serving and volleying. In March, she said, when "Hanika was getting grooved, I played the same way. Now I change it up. That's what I do much better. Before, I let them get in a groove and then I changed. Now, I don't even want to let them get grooved."
Navratilova, who also will team with Pam Shriver to play Anne Smith and Kathy Jordan for the doubles title tonight, has been in such a groove all week that she said she might need to find a male practice partner for Sunday's day off. Mark Moseley might do, she said. "He doesn't miss."