The first time Chris Evert Lloyd reached the final of the U.S. Open was 10 years ago, in 1975, when she was 20 years old and answered to Chrissie. She wore her hair long then, and tied it back with ribbons. She wasn't married then, either. And the combination of her look, her talent, her innocence and her availability conspired to make her America's Sporting Sweetheart, an ivory cameo she has worn with ripening style even as she changed from bobby sox to stockings and then from boys to men.

Since then, she has reached the final here nine times, missing only once, in 1981, when she lost in the semifinals, in three sets, 7-5 in the third, to Martina Navratilova. She is now, and has been, seemingly forever, the most consistent performer this tournament ever has seen.

This is her tournament.

She owns it.

She is not supposed to lose in the semifinals here. Especially not to someone other than Navratilova. It may not be over 'til it's over, but it's not the same ova if it's Mandlikova.

We are not supposed to watch her end a match by hitting a backhand -- that famous, glorious, two-handed grunting backhand -- into the net. We are not supposed to be singing Bye, Bye Miss American Pie on Friday.

This doesn't feel right.

Hana, what have you done?

It was a foregone conclusion that for the third straight year Evert would play Navratilova in Saturday's final. Early in the day, after she had quickly dispatched young Steffi Graf, Navratilova admitted to fully expecting to meet Evert in the final. "You sort of plan to play Chris," she said, as if to underline how much distance the two of them enjoy from the rest of the field. She gave Mandlikova no better than a "30 percent" chance of eliminating Evert, and allowed that it would require "an adjustment" to play anyone other than Evert.

You got the sense that Navratilova would consider the final diminished if Evert wasn't in it. After playing each other 66 times now, Navratilova and Evert have become like twins who battle to create distinct identities but who are strangely uncomfortable when separated.

Navratilova assumed Evert couldn't lose to anyone but her.

Evert probably assumed the same.

"Everybody loses sometime," Mandlikova said. And, in truth, the shocking thing isn't that Evert lost, or that she lost to Mandlikova, a player of inhibiting gifts, but why she lost. Or at least why she said she lost.

She said she didn't care enough.

In the setting that always brought out her best, the semifinal of a Grand Slam event, the semifinal of her national championship, Christine Marie Evert, of whom it is said, "All she wants is every point," the Ice Queen who'd cut your heart out and hold it in her hand, the baby-faced assassin, the absolutely, positively toughest competitor of her generation, said she didn't care enough.

"My heart just wasn't in it."

Say it isn't so.

"I just wasn't charged up as usual -- nobody's fault but my own," she said, blowing it away lightly as if it was a stray eyelash. "I didn't get pumped up enough."

She went on in that same calm, airy, almost out-of-body way, admitting that she hadn't played with the kind of aggression that such situations demand, and that Mandlikova "reacted better to the pressure" than she had. "You know," she said, "this is the first time in a long time in a Grand Slam tournament that I didn't slap my thigh like I usually do, and I didn't jump up and down," gestures of eagerness that always have characterized her game. The battery had died, and she couldn't, or wouldn't jump-start it. There was a hint of wonder in her voice as she said, "It's unusual for me because I usually get psyched up for every Grand Slam tournament that I play."

But Evert seemed neither troubled nor puzzled by this passivity, explaining that "there are going to be days when you feel a little more motivated than other days."

But she is 30 years old now, and she already has re-made her game once. There are limits to one's endurance, both physically and psychologically. The actuarial tables of her sport insist that she is going downhill, however imperceptible it may be to all of us, and the more often a fire falters, the sooner it goes out completely.

When Mandlikova was told that Evert had said this stuff about her heart not being in the match, she laughed rather haughtily. Not only could she rightfully see Evert's comment as being personally uncharitable, but she could rightfully see it as being unprofessional. "That's very funny," Mandlikova began, "because, as we know, Chris is very tough mentally." For years they have said that Mandlikova's problem is that she is not, and she took care to remind people of that. Then she laughed again. "I was not thinking if she had her heart in it or not. In semifinals of U.S. Open, your heart should be in it."

Advantage, Hana.