It was Martina Navratilova who said it on Friday when someone asked how she would react if Hana Mandlikova found a way to beat Chris Evert Lloyd and Navratilova back to back to win the U.S. Open.

"If she does it," Navratilova said, "All you can do is say, 'Great stuff.' "

No two words can better describe the tennis that Mandlikova and Navratilova produced this afternoon, dueling for 2 hours 14 minutes before Mandlikova produced a 7-6 (7-3), 1-6, 7-6 (7-2) victory that left her lying flat on her back on match point as 21,169 fans screamed their appreciation.

If ever a match was a capsule of a player's career, this was it. Mandlikova won the first five games, crushing one winner after another. Then she lost the next five, blew a set point and was down, 0-40, at 5-all. She turned that game around, saved a total of seven break points before it was over and then played a superb tie breaker to win the first set.

Set two was all Navratilova. Set three went on serve until 3-3, when Mandlikova broke with one of those crackling returns that sends gasps through a crowd. Immediately, Navratilova broke back. They went on serve to the tie breaker and Mandlikova showed her genius one more time.

She led, 6-0, and botched two match points. But on the third, she reached behind her to scoop a backhand volley that eluded Navratilova. As dusk closed in, Mandlikova fell flat on her back and kicked her legs in the air for sheer joy. She threw her racket high into the darkening sky and screeched with happiness.

As she did, Navratilova came around the net and Mandlikova hugged her, each fighting tears, the ex-patriate Czech turned American and the Czech who stayed.

"To beat Chris and Martina in the same tournament just doesn't happen very often," said Mandlikova, 23. "This is a great moment for me. I finally had it all fall in place for me at once. I played the game I thought I could play."

The victory is the third Grand Slam title for Mandlikova, her first coming in the 1981 French Open, her second in Australia the next year. It is her first U.S. Open title after twice losing finals to Evert.

It is also the first time any woman other than Navratilova or Evert has won a Grand Slam title since Tracy Austin beat Navratilova here in 1981 -- also in a third-set tie breaker.

If the victory was the most gratifying of Mandlikova's career, it was certainly one of the most devastating of Navratilova's. This would have been her third U.S. Open title and her 13th Grand Slam. After Evert lost to Mandlikova Friday, she must have thought the title was hers.

"I'm not sure I can talk," Navratilova said during the victory ceremony, her voice cracking, "but you can bet I'll be back."

It took Navratilova almost one hour in the solitude of the locker room with her friends to gather herself to face the media. When she did, she gave Mandlikova full credit.

"I said if she could beat Chris and then me back to back she deserved credit, and she does," Navratilova said. "It was a strange match. For a while there in the first set she was hitting winners all over the place. I just hung in, hoping she would start to miss, and she did."

It is the end of that first set that will haunt Navratilova. After getting back to 5-all, she had the next game on her racket three times and each time missed an easy shot.

Given that reprieve, Mandlikova played a wonderful tie breaker, winning the last four points. She began the string with a great lunging forehand pass and ended it by taking a Navratilova volley on the fly and whipping it past her.

Mandlikova had the first set. The lead was brief, Navratilova taking little time to win the second set. But in the third, both women raised their games and the match went from strange to sensational.

As was only right, it came down to the tie breaker. Mandlikova, at a time when her nerves normally might have been shot, dug in and played the best tennis of her life.

She began with a service winner. Then, Navratilova followed a first serve in and Mandlikova blasted a backhand right at her. Surprised, Navratilova volleyed deep. Mandlikova followed with a perfect backhand return to lead, 3-0. Two big serves made it 5-0 and a perfect, chipped forehand return made it 6-0.

The crowd stood en masse as the women changed sides. Navratilova saved two match points. But on the third, even when she hit a good backhand return, Mandlikova's athletic ability saved her as she twisted her body, hit the winner and then fell in disbelief at what she had done.

"I never thought about winning the tournament," she said. "All I thought all two weeks was hit the ball, watch the ball and keep fighting."

This match really was a fight. "I thought consistency would beat flair in the end," Navratilova said. "Today, it didn't."

And so now, the brilliance predicted for Mandlikova when she won two Grand Slams before she was 20 may come to pass.

"She's really matured a lot in the last year, on the court and off," Navratilova said. "I think that's why she was able to do this."

That she did it with the New York crowd -- an American crowd -- pulling for her, upset Navratilova. "I may not be that much more American than she is," Navratilova said. "But this could only happen in America.