The last backhand by Chris Evert Lloyd, sharply angled, well out of Martina Navratilova's reach, floated softly over the sideline, wide by perhaps an inch.
Navratilova looked for a moment, heard the out call and shrieked with joy. Evert, rooted to the spot, her racket still poised after following through, paused as if hoping the ball would somehow come back.
Reluctantly, she walked to the net to congratulate Navratilova. Reluctantly, the sun-drenched Centre Court crowd began applauding. Navratilova had come from behind to win her sixth Wimbledon singles championship and her fourth in succession, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.
She had defeated her own nerves, a resolute, BB-shooting Evert and an overtly pro-Evert crowd to win a match she could easily have lost.
Was it, she was asked, one of the most satisfying victories of her life? "The" most satisfying, she answered quickly and directly.
"I was more an underdog than any time since the first time I won here," she said. "At least, that's what I was hearing in the locker room."
That's because of the way Evert has been playing since her stunning victory over Navratilova in the French Open final four weeks ago. Her forehand never has been better, her backhand bold and biting, even her serve has a snap it never had before.
Today, as Evert and Navratilova walked to Centre Court for their 12th meeting in a Grand Slam final, there was electricity in the air.
The players felt it. "Warming up, I was so nervous I could barely keep the ball in play," Navratilova said. "I think Chris was getting annoyed with me. At the French, I thought I would win even if I didn't play well. Here, I knew I had to play well if I was going to win."
That was apparent from the start. Just as she had done in Paris, Evert came out with radar on her ground strokes. Navratilova, wanting to attack, could not. If she came in, a passing shot would buzz by her. If she stayed back, Evert was too patient for her.
"She was really hitting her passing shots," Navratilova said. "I had to work my way into the match."
It wasn't easy. Evert broke in the third game with three winners in a row. The last was a backhand return that was hit so hard it might have gone through the net had it not gone over it.
From there, Evert served out the set, but not easily. Serving at 5-4, she and Navratilova played a game reminiscent of Paris, one filled with superb shotmaking, reversals in momentum and finally suspense so thick the crowd seemed to be holding its breath on each shot.
"I certainly had my chances in that game," Navratilova said. "By then, at least, I felt like I was in the match and hitting the ball well.
The game began with Evert running down a forehand and Navratilova volleying the return into the net. Evert looked to the sky in thanks, Navratilova looked in the same direction in disgust.
Still, Navratilova got to break point with a backhand volley and was shaking her fist in anticipation of the break. But Evert saved that one with a screeching forehand.
A moment later, it was break point again. This time, Navratilova attacked and Evert whistled a forehand past her.
Evert had two set points. On the first, her forehand was long. On the second, she hit a lob that Navratilova chased down. She lobbed weakly, but Evert, so keen for the winner, hit a poor overhead. Still, it was just strong enough to force another weak return and, given another chance, Evert volleyed into the corner for the set.
It was the first set Navratilova had lost here since the 1982 final (against -- who else? -- Evert) a streak of 20 matches and 41 sets. The crowd was delirious. Evert was "delighted." Navratilova was determined.
"Even though I lost the set, I knew I was playing better," she said. "I was making Chris hit good shots, passing shots. She was making them, but I felt like sooner or later if I just kept after her relentlessly, she would start missing. When you hit all passing shots, you only have a small target to shoot for."
No one ever has hit that target more consistently than Evert. What is perhaps most remarkable about these two women is the way they keep pushing each other to new levels.
After Paris, Navratilova worked on slicing her forehand so she could come in behind it. Today, as the match wore on, she consistently knocked her returns deeper and deeper. On the quick, slippery grass, Evert had to keep reaching lower and lower to get to her groundstrokes.
"This is her surface," Evert said. "I think it helps her sliced backhand because it stays down. Today, she just picked up her game when she had to."
All true. Yet, this could have been a two-set match. After Navratilova held to begin the second set, Evert saved two break points to reach 1-1, winning the game with the shot of the day, a running forehand off Navratilova's sharp volley that looked like a winner. Instead, Evert whipped the ball just past Navratilova and just inside the base line.
It was a stunning shot, the kind that can make a player wonder what she has to do with an opponent who is creating such wonders. And, when Evert quickly had Navratilova in a 0-30 hole, Navratilova was indeed talking aloud, slapping her leg, looking baffled.
A break there and Evert might have run out the match. But Navratilova heaved a big sigh and hit four winners in a row to save the game. A moment later, she got her first break of the match, snapping a crosscourt backhand volley off what looked like Evert's winner to lead by 3-1.
"When I had my chances, I didn't feel like I blew them," Evert said. "I just felt like she played the points very well. She played her best on the big points. When she broke me in the second, I had to play catch-up. But still, I had more chances."
Indeed. Evert had 0-30 with Navratilova serving at 4-2 and Navratilova again came up with four winners. At 5-3, she had 15-40, two break points. On the first, both women stayed back -- Navratilova still wary of Evert's dead-eye passing shots. But finally, she did come in, behind a backhand. Evert took aim and fired a backhand. It cracked the net tape.
At 30-40, a backhand by Evert missed the base line by three inches. Two serves later, Navratilova had the set. "That," said Evert, "was a huge game."
The next game was just as big. Navratilova immediately had Evert in trouble at 15-40, but she saved both break points. At deuce, Evert came in. Early in the match, on occasional forays, she had surprised Navratilova. This time, Navratilova played Evert, rattling a forehand past her.
On the third break point, Evert's forehand pass went wide and Navratilova sprinted to her chair, shaking her fists, glancing, as she did throughout the match, towards her coach, Mike Estep, and her traveling companion, Judy Nelson.
Evert could only sigh. "Catch-up again," she said later.
But this time, she never caught up. Each service game was an ordeal for Evert now. Nothing was easy. "Relentless," Navratilova kept telling herself. "Be relentless." She held at 30 to lead, 3-1, and at 30 again for 4-2. She shook the fist again and held up two fingers -- two games to go.
She got them quickly. First, she broke to 5-2, volleying another sharp forehand by Evert crosscourt on break point. "I wanted the second break badly," Navratilova said. "When I got that one, I thought I had control of the match."
Evert wasn't quite through. She smacked one more backhand return to get to 15-all. Then, sadly, came two bad calls against Evert. The first was on a serve that looked long; the second on Navratilova forehand's that also looked long. Both balls were called good.
Evert stared each time, but got no reversal. The crowd, grumpy because its heroine was losing, whistled and booed. They even rhythmically clapped to delay Navratilova from serving.
"I thought I got two bad calls in the last game," Evert said. "I'm not saying they affected the outcome of the match or that I would have broken her in that game. But it would have been nice to just play the game."
"It was too bad," Navratilova agreed. "I thought the serve was good, at least the machine said it was good and it's been pretty accurate. I don't know though. The one on the base line was apparently out. I couldn't do anything about it. It's too bad it happened in the last game."
Ironically, Evert, as president of the Women's Tennis Association, had written tournament referee Alan Mills Friday night complimenting him on the officiating.
Navratilova was going to win anyway. But because of the calls, the ending to an otherwise superb match was sour. The cheers for Navratilova as she accepted her trophy from the Dutchess of Kent were muted. The cheers for Evert, the loser, much louder.
Evert, clearly displeased, stood to the side, not looking as Navratilova went from one side to the other with her trophy.
But as Navratilova and Evert walked from the court -- the crowd finally responded to the sight of the two of them together -- their friendship surfaced again. Because as they began to leave, the Duke and Dutchess of Kent were just returning to their box. Navratilova didn't see them there and was about to leave without the traditionial curtsy.
"All I saw was (Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher," she said. "You aren't supposed to curtsy to her."
But Evert spotted the Duke and Dutchess and touched Navratilova on the shoulder and pointed. The two women stopped, curtsied and, together as always, departed.
In The Royal Box, they were standing, as is appropriate when royalty departs.