The first game lasted exactly one minute. And Zina Garrison couldn't believe she survived that long.
"It seemed faster than a minute. I don't think I even touched the ball," said 21-year-old Garrison, who was run over last night by the Martina Navratilova express, 6-1, 6-2, in a semifinal match of the Virginia Slims tennis tournament.
"I couldn't miss," said 28-year-old Navratilova, who allowed Garrison just four points in the first four games of a match that lasted only 26 minutes.
Navratilova will play Manuela Maleeva in tonight's championship match for $28,000 at George Washington University's Smith Center at 7. The two have met just once before, at Wimbledon last year. Navratilova won that match on grass, 6-3, 6-2.
After a few tears and a 16-point tie breaker, Maleeva cranked her game into passing gear to win the other semifinal match, beating Kathy Rinaldi, 7-6 (9-7), 6-1.
The tears came in the first set between Maleeva, a 17-year-old Bulgarian seeded fourth in this tournament, and Rinaldi, a 17-year-old from Florida who had advanced to the semifinals with three upset victories.
Rinaldi was leading, 6-5, with the score at 30-30, when she slammed a two-fisted backhand down the sideline. The line judge called it out. But he was overruled by chair umpire Nancy Hockett, who awarded the point to Rinaldi. While Maleeva wept at the base line, officials conferred at the chair and decided to play the point over.
"It was not just one call. There were two or three calls on very important points," said Maleeva, who has seemed on the verge of tears a few times this tournament. "It would upset anyone."
Maleeva won the game to force a tie breaker which she won, 9-7. Rinaldi broke Maleeva's serve in the first game of the second set, but was not able to win another.
"I had a chance to win the first set and didn't. After that I think I got a little down," said Rinaldi. "I was probably too aggressive. I was missing too many shots."
There was little to dispute in the other semifinal. Navratilova played like the $8 million dollar woman she has become in her 10-year career. Her serves were so hard, accurate and deep, Garrison was hitting off her heels most of the match.
"I ought to bottle it, I could sell it for a fortune," said Navratilova during the match. Afterward, she was still impressed. "It didn't matter where I was aiming. They all seemed to be going in. When you're in a groove like that it seems so easy."
Navratilova had some advice for both Garrison (develop a better first serve and tighten your racket strings) and Maleeva (enjoy the game more).
Maleeva's mood yesterday was in sharp contrast to Rinaldi's. The disputed point in the 12th game would have put Rinaldi at set point. But she did not argue when it was taken away and refused to complain about it after the match.
"If I got upset over every call that was bad, I probably wouldn't be here today," said Rinaldi who began playing tournament events in 1982, the same year as Maleeva. "It's going to go both ways. The judges are trying the best they can."
Yesterday Maleeva's mother, former Bulgarian tennis star Yulia Berberian Maleeva, who serves as coach for Manuela and her 15-year-old sister Katerina, was sitting in the stands trying to calm her daughter. "You play this point," she called to Maleeva, who was leaning over a railing, her back to the court.
"The worse the calls, the better she plays," said Yulia Maleeva. "All is well that ends well."
Despite losing, Rinaldi said she was happy with her performance at this tournament. Though ranked just 23rd in the world, she beat sixth-seeded Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in a tough, three-set opening-round match and sailed past Pam Casale in the second. Friday night she enjoyed the biggest victory of her career, ousting Hana Mandlikova, the tournament's second seed and defending champion.
"I feel hungry to play this year," said Rinaldi, who broke into professional tennis as a 14-year-old with unlimited potential but stalled a bit last year. "I think I'm improving. My serve is more of a weapon now than just a way to get the ball over. I think I'm improving."
Maleeva's improvement in the last year has been startling. In 1983 she won $27,458 in singles play. Last year, her singles earnings topped $300,000.
Against Rinaldi, it was not hard to see why. Though her serve is average, Maleeva has been well schooled in the other aspects of the game. Her passing shot is as good as anyone's in women's tennis. She has a whippy, Lendl-like forehand and a drop shot that seems to dive over the net.
Maleeva and her mother object to descriptions of her on-court demeanor as tortured and morose. "I am very happy playing tennis. Tennis is my life," said Maleeva, who has a pretty smile and a shy sweetness off the court.
Garrison was not exactly jovial after her loss, but she managed a bit of gallows humor at her own expense. In the nine times she has been beaten by Navratilova, Garrison said she has tried playing from the base line, charging the net and nearly every combination of the two. Asked what new strategy she might employ the next time they meet, Garrison said, "I'll think about not getting out there, I guess."
In doubles play yesterday, Kohde-Kilsch and Helena Sukova fought back after losing the first set to beat Kathy Turnbull and Mandlikova, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, and advance to tonight's final.
They will play Navratilova and Gigi Fernandez, who beat Kathy Jordan and Elizabeth Smylie last night, 6-3, 6-2.