For two weeks now, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert Lloyd have been asked repeatedly which young players they think will challenge their dominance of women's tennis in the near future.
Today, after Navratilova and Evert had reached Saturday's French Open final without losing a set or even playing a tie breaker in their six matches, Evert finally answered the question.
"I think as long as Martina and I are still mentally eager to play, we're going to be No. 1 and No. 2," she said. "The girls that have the potential to be No. 1 will succeed us. I don't think they'll replace us."
That was never more apparent than today. Navratilova, by her own admission, played poorly yet still defeated 21-year-old Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 6-4, 6-4, without so much as a scary moment. By contrast, Evert played superbly in romping past 15-year-old Gabriela Sabatini, 6-4, 6-1.
Their victories mean that, for the 14th straight time, dating to the 1981 U.S. Open, either Navratilova or Evert will be the winner of a Grand Slam event.
This was a strange day at Roland Garros. Rain delayed the start of play by an hour, then held up Navratilova's match for 20 minutes early in the first set.
Kohde-Kilsch, the 6-foot-1 West German who upset No. 3 Hana Mandlikova in the quarterfinals, had said she had nothing to lose against Navratilova. Yet she played most of the match as if she were terrified, double-faulting eight times and missing easy shots repeatedly.
Usually, such a performance against Navratilova will result in that player's elimination in about 40 minutes. But not today. Navratilova simply wasn't herself. She served poorly -- six double faults -- and botched volleys she usually puts away easily.
When someone asked her if she would agree that it was not one of her finest performances, Navratilova burst out laughing. "You should be a diplomat," she said. "I was good enough to win and that's nice. But I just wasn't sharp. I didn't play well and I didn't serve well. I think if Claudia had played better, I would have played better."
While Navratilova won on a day she would probably rather forget, Evert won a match that gave her great satisfaction. Sabatini is the player most people expect to take over when Navratilova and Evert eventually step aside, and today, most in the crowd were behind the younger player.
Evert, a crowd favorite since she was 16, is not used to feeling hostility. "It was a strange feeling for me," she admitted. "Most of the time, crowds are for me. The shoe was on the other foot today. I understood why they were for Gabriela because I remember what it was like when I was 16. But it was unusual. I think today it helped me because it made me a little more determined."
Sabatini has the shots to beat Evert, but not the experience. After Sabatini had closed a 5-1 first-set deficit to 5-4 and 30-all, Evert played near-perfect tennis. She won the set with a backhand that Sabatini ran down but lobbed long.
Briefly, Sabatini appeared ready to make it a match early in the second set. She held her serve in the opening game and had Evert in trouble in the second.
But Evert, with the crowd booing loudly, got some help from the umpire. At 30-all, she hit a backhand that was called out. Evert argued and, without so much as checking the mark on the clay, the line judge reversed her call.
The point was replayed. This time, Sabatini hit a hard backhand down the line. It was called out. By now, the scoreboard operater was so confused, he awarded Sabatini the game. As the crowd hooted, Evert waited for quiet, then shrugged.
After Sabatini got to deuce, Evert whacked a backhand winner and then knocked a backhand past Sabatini for the game.
Although Sabatini contended later that losing that game didn't affect her, she played differently the rest of the match, winning only five points in the last four games.
"I had played well for a while and then I stopped playing well," she said. "At the end, I was playing well, but she played better."
A fair assessment. Evert is 30 now -- "a good age to retire," she joked earlier this week -- but when her brown eyes start flashing with anger and determination as they did when she heard the boos, it still is advisable to duck.
From 2-1 in the second set, she could do little wrong. Backhands laced the side lines and lobs sailed past Sabatini but inside the base line. The teen-ager could do little more than chase down winners.
"After I got out of the first set, I think I was basically home free," Evert said. "I wasn't pleased with the way I gave up the lead in the first set and made it close but I thought I played a really good second set."
Whether she can produce tennis as good against Navratilova, who has beaten her in 15 of their last 16 matches, is another question. Saturday's final will be the 65th match between the two. Navratilova leads the rivalry, 33-31.
That is about as close as two champions can get. "We've been the two best players for a long time," Evert said. "We've been consistent."
Today, it was readily apparent that Evert isn't about to turn anything over to the next generation yet. It was just as apparent that the next generation is not yet ready to challenge Evert or Navratilova.