LONDON -- At the end of "Tin Men," the savvy slice-of-life movie set in Baltimore in 1963, Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito are sitting in a car wondering what next to do with their lives now that they've been drummed out of the aluminum siding business.
Serendipitously, a Volkswagen Beetle passes, and it occurs to both of them simultaneously that they have just seen the future.
Martina, there's someone knocking on your door.
Don't answer it.
Hana Mandlikova has episodes of brilliance, Gabriela Sabatini has a compelling elegance, Helena Sukova and Pam Shriver have commendable talents, and 16-year-old Natalia Zvereva has promise as clear as spring water. But Steffi Graf and her 300-mph forehand is what's coming at you in the sticky heat of the day, with the top down and the radio blasting.
Martina Navratilova shut her down on Saturday, but a little fine tuning back at the shop and she'll be ready to run in the morning.
Would you like to play Martina again soon? Graf was asked.
Breathlessly she said, "Yes," her eyes wide with eagerness.
And would you be confident?
"Why shouldn't I be?"
There are roses at Navratilova's feet today, and they are there deservedly. She won her eighth Wimbledon, tying Helen Wills Moody's record; she won her sixth straight Wimbledon, setting a record of her own. With the gold and silver plates she's taken out of here she now has service for eight, but the plates are so large she'd need a table the size of Asia to eat on. She's won 41 straight matches here -- on the most holy courts in tennis -- and she's disposed of Chris Evert, Andrea Jaeger, Mandlikova and Graf in finals. There shouldn't be any question in anyone's mind that if Martina Navratilova isn't the greatest player in the history of women's tennis, she's close enough to get in the photo.
But as she supplanted Evert, who supplanted Billie Jean King, who supplanted Margaret Court and onward back in time, so will Graf inevitably supplant her. At 18, her game is far more advanced than was that of Navratilova, who at 18 defected to the United States apparently to eat and soon weighed 165 pounds. And for those of you looking ahead: 13 years from today, in the year 2000, Graf will only be four months older than Martina is now.
Graf came into this tournament a breath away from being No. 1. (Had she won, Graf would have become the only other woman besides Tracy Austin -- who did so briefly in 1980 -- to hold the No. 1 spot other than Navratilova or Evert since computer rankings began in 1975.) She'd won 45 matches in a row, and she was undefeated in 1987. She'd beaten Navratilova on cement and clay already this year. Winning Wimbledon would have made the accession official. It didn't happen; Navratilova was too shrewd and too precise. But consider that this tournament was the third Graf ever played on grass -- and the first time on grass in two years! "It's an unbelievable thing, me going to the finals," Graf said. And if she was this good on grass having hardly sniffed it, imagine what she might do to Navratilova on cement, her best surface, at the U.S. Open. We could be looking at Mike Tyson here.
If this was then a last stand for Navratilova, accord her all due glory for marshaling the psychological forces necessary to endure the challenge. This had not been a good year for Navratilova. For the first time since 1974 she came into Wimbledon without having won even one tournament. She double-faulted on match point in the final of the French to Graf; she double-faulted a tie breaker away to Mandlikova in the final of the Australian; she surrendered a 5-0 lead in a set in the final at Eastbourne to Sukova. She wasn't just vulnerable, she was slipshod. She was sending the other women a signal that you didn't have to beat her -- if you stayed close she would beat herself. The others finally sensed a mortality in Navratilova's game. For the past few years they'd been so preoccupied watching Evert slip they hadn't noticed Navratilova coming back to the pack as well.
This would be Navratilova's Stalingrad -- no defeat, baby, no surrender. She would prepare as never before, plumbing the limits of her courage and will. She would privately acknowledge the unvarnished truth about her celebrated rivalry with Evert: off clay Evert presented no clear and present danger, having lost 22 of their 24 matches since 1982. She allowed that for the first time she wouldn't treat a semifinal against Evert like a final. The significance was obvious: Navratilova was recognizing Graf's move up the ladder and concentrating on her. "Grass is my domain," she announced, a lioness staking out her territory: woe to any trespasser. She conceded her previously flaccid play, confronted her fraying nerves.
"I had beaten myself a couple of times, but there was no doubt it wouldn't happen here. If someone was going to beat me, they'd have to be a better player and do it to me -- I wouldn't do it to me," Navratilova said, joyfully discussing her psychological makeover. "I really did a job on myself in my head. Some people may have doubted me, but those who knew me well didn't. If you believe in something hard enough, you will convince yourself. At the French, I couldn't quite see myself winning the last point. Here I couldn't see it ending any other way."
She put all the pressure on herself she could possibly tolerate, opened the doors and said to Graf: Come and get me. And she prevailed in what may have been her most important match since she first beat Evert here in 1978. Navratilova has her eighth Wimbledon and her record sixth in a row. "I have a record that may stand forever," she said proudly. "If it gets broken and I'm still alive, I'd like to be here." Someday we may look back and say the real significance of Navratilova winning No. 6 in 1987 was that Steffi Graf couldn't break that particular record until 1994.