Every day, after every easy match, the savants of Wimbledon interrogate Martina Navratilova. Wouldn't she have preferred a tougher route to the final? Doesn't she regret not being able to test herself against Chris Evert Lloyd?
"I wish she was there," Navratilova said, finally, after beating Yvonne Vermaak in a 36-minute semifinal Thursday. "But Andrea (Jaeger) deserves to be there. Once your name is on that board, people don't remember who you beat. Your name is etched forever, as long as this earth is in one piece."
Aside from the implied recognition that tennis is not the end of the world, Navratilova managed to capture the mood of Wimbledon as it looks forward to the women's final. Though it is not what one expected, it may surpass expectation.
Navratilova, the No. 1 seed and defending champion, has been in three finals and won all three. Jaeger, the No. 3 seed, and third-ranked player, will be in her first Wimbledon final, her second Grand Slam final, having lost to Navratilova at the French Open in 1982. At 18, she is the youngest finalist since Maureen Connolly won at 17 in 1952.
"It helps some," Navratilova said. "I've been in three and won all of them, so I know I haven't cracked. She's been at big tournaments before. I don't expect her to be shaking. It doesn't mean that much once the match starts."
Neither woman has lost a set in six matches. But Jaeger has not won a set from Navratilova since she beat her the last time, two years ago on grass at Eastbourne (Navratilova holds a 10-4 lifetime edge). Though Navratilova is considered a prohibitive favorite, the final should be far better than either semifinal.
"Geez," Jaeger said, after beating Billie Jean King, "I haven't thought about it. I don't think about tennis that much. She's had a pretty easy run. It's going to be hard. But I'm not going to go out there thinking I'm going to lose."
Jaeger, who returned well against King, and passed her seemingly at will, will have a much harder time doing that to Navratilova. King admitted, "She cleaned my clock . . . I had a bad day at the office."
Navratilova is not likely to have one of those.
"Only if Martina doesn't serve well does Andrea have a chance," said King. "In the past, I don't think Andrea believed she could beat Martina."
King said she wasn't sure whether Jaeger was willing "to put in that second effort you need to beat someone of her stature."
In some ways, Navratilova said, Jaeger will be tougher than Evert might have been. "Her (Evert's) serve is not as strong as Jaeger's and it's easier to attack. But mentally she's so tough. She would be the more difficult opponent."
Once, Navratilova might have felt embarrassed at beating opponents so badly. She might lose a point or a game deliberately.
"I used to," she said. "Not anymore. I know they wouldn't do that for me. I'm not trying to rub it in. I'm just going for the best shot and hit it if I can."
How, Navratilova was asked, would she go about beating Navratilova? "Rosie (Casals) keeps saying: 'Stall. Keep the matches going longer.' Obviously, you would play my backhand. My forehand, I hit hard and I don't miss that many."
But her backhand has improved.
"I probably won't use it as much against Andrea," she said. "I'll chip and come in. I'm not unbeatable but I'm pretty difficult to beat."
So how would she do it?
"I'd break her left arm," she said.