Carling Bassett, who is 16, made her first appearance in a U.S. Open semifinal today. Wendy Turnbull, who is 31, probably made her last.
Neither stayed very long.
Proving again they are irrefutably superior to the rest of the world's women tennis players, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd swept into the Open final with straight-set victories.
Although Evert made a postmatch comment about the "unpredictability of women's tennis today," the sport never looked more predictable than it did this afternoon.
In a grand total of two hours four minutes, they swept into Saturday's final, which will begin between 3 and 4 p.m. depending on the duration of two previous matches on the program (WDVM-TV-9). Navratilova took 55 minutes to beat Turnbull, 6-4, 6-1, and Evert needed only 69 minutes to rout Bassett, 6-2, 6-2.
To most in the sun-drenched crowd at the National Tennis Center, the one-sided semifinals were disappointing. They cheered lustily whenever Turnbull or Bassett hit a winner and sighed with despair when they lunged at shots that whizzed past them.
"She's just so tough," said Bassett of Evert. "She runs you from side to side and then when you come to the net she passes you. Believe me, it's no fun."
Turnbull had a similar experience. Gamely, she twice broke Navratilova's serve in the first set only to be undone by a double fault in the 10th game. After that, she quickly folded, losing the second set in 18 minutes.
"She seemed nervous in the first set, a little tentative maybe," Turnbull said. "But once she won that set she loosened up and served much better in the second."
So, for the fourth time in the last five Grand Slam tournaments, it will be Navratilova and Evert in the final. The only reason it isn't five out of five is that Evert skipped the Australian Open last year. Lifetime, they are 30-30 against each other, though Navratilova has won their last 12 matches.
"I try not to think about playing Martina," Evert said. "But it's always in the back of my mind. Now, I can concentrate on her completely tonight."
Evert seemed to have genuine empathy for Bassett, who hacked and coughed her way through the match, a reminder of her summer bout with mononucleosis. As the two shook hands at the net, Evert said, "I'm sorry, I hope you feel better."
Evert could identify with Bassett. Thirteen years ago in this tournament, she was the 16-year-old playing her first semifinal against a 29-year-old champion, Billie Jean King. The match was closer than today's but the result the same: the great lady beat the young lady.
"I was a little nervous in the waiting room before the match but once I got out there the crowd didn't bother me at all," Bassett said. "Chris just put too much pressure on me."
Evert remembered her first time in this kind of spotlight as a day when she didn't feel nervous, either. "Actually, I was stupid," she said. "I was totally oblivious to everything around me. Later, I went back through the clips and realized how exciting it really was.
"With Carling, though, it's a little different. She's a veteran, I was a first, being 16. Now, we've had Tracy, Carling, others; it's not that big a deal anymore. But still, the first time it's a special feeling for a player."
Nervous or not, Bassett lost her serve in the first game with a double fault, broke back to get even, then quickly disappeared in the general direction of the Manhattan skyline as Evert slammed, lobbed, dinked and dropped all over the court.
"I hit the ball very well today," Evert said. "This tournament has been a little like Wimbledon in that I haven't been thrilled with the way I've played but it's been good enough. But today, I played very well."
Bassett refused to use her health as an excuse. Before she left, she did take a final swipe at Hana Mandlikova, who had said Wednesday that Bassett has nothing to lose when she plays because her father is a multimillionaire.
"That was a ridiculous thing to say," Bassett said. "If it were true, what would make Martina play hard? She's rich, too."
Navratilova has made it clear long ago that she is motivated by far more than money. Evert will have to be even better Saturday than she was today if she is to end Navratilova's 54-match winning streak.
Evert holds the record for most consecutive match victories, officially listed at 56, though tennis statisticians today challenged that number, saying it includes a default. If the Women's Tennis Association goes along with the challenge (as of today it "stood by 56"), Navratilova could tie Evert's record Saturday.
And, if form holds, she will do just that. The measure of the current gap between them may well be the Wimbledon final. There, Evert lost, 7-6, 6-1, and everyone talked about how well she had played.
"Chris can beat Martina," said Navratilova's coach, Mike Estep. "But only if she finds a way to pin her at the base line, with lobs or shots on the lines. She can't beat her by trying to pass her 48 times."
That was Turnbull's only chance today. Seven years ago in this tournament, she beat Navratilova, but that was on clay. Today, Turnbull began well, rifling winners past Navratilova often enough that the defending champion was muttering aloud about her play.
But serving at 4-5, 30-15, Turnbull came undone. She hit a first serve that looked long. Navratilova missed the return as the Cyclops machine, which is supposed to call the service line, failed to beep.
"Come on," Navratilova screamed at umpire Joyce Johnson, who overruled the machine and called a fault. Turnbull agreed with the call, but seemed unnerved by it and proceeded to double fault. Three points later, Navratilova nailed a return at Turnbull's feet on set point and the Australian pushed it into the net.
Turnbull's sharp ground strokes quickly began looping long. She lost 12 of the first 13 points in the second set and was down, 3-0, in six minutes. From there, it was just a matter of playing out the points.
Even before Evert had gone through the formality of beating Bassett, Navratilova turned her attention in that direction.
"I was excited as hell to be in the final last year," she said. "With Chris, anything can happen. I'm excited at the thought of playing her again. You can never count out a competitor like her."
The credentials of these two athletes are impeccable. They have 25 Grand Slam titles (Evert 15, Navratilova 10). Evert will be going for her seventh title here, Navratilova for her second straight.
If Evert wins, it will be a huge upset. Still, she clings to the notion that there is at least one more big victory left in her.
"If I had never beaten Martina in my life, then I might be at a psychological disadvantage," she said. "But I have beaten Martina, and even though she is playing great tennis, in the back of my mind I remember the times I've beaten her.
"I don't think she's invincible. She's a great player, a great champion, but no one is invincible, not (John) McEnroe, not Martina. That's the feeling I'll take into this match."
She may be one of the few people who has that feeling when the two walk into the stadium to play yet another final.