NEW YORK, SEPT. 10 -- They got a good look at each other today, at a distance of about 15 feet. It was only doubles, but let's not argue semantics.

Steffi Graf and Lori McNeil, who will meet Friday in one of the women's semifinals at the U.S. Open, were on opposite sides of the court for a women's doubles semifinal. In the process, they might have noticed something about each other's character.

Graf and Gabriela Sabatini, the third-seeded doubles team, beat McNeil and Zina Garrison, seeded sixth, in a tough, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4 match. McNeil and Garrison saved six match points, including two in the second set when they came back from a 2-5 deficit on Sabatini's serve.

It was a match that featured some brilliant shotmaking by Graf and McNeil, and served as an interesting prelude to the singles, although McNeil said she got nothing out of the match she could use.

"I never really went out there with the thought of strategy. You get to return serve and she gets to return mine, and some of {my} shots, but there's no way you can plan a singles match around doubles," McNeil said.

In the other women's semifinal, second-seeded Martina Navratilova will face sixth-seeded Helena Sukova in a rematch of last year's Open final. Sukova has lost only one set so far and looked very impressive in dispatching Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, 6-1, 6-3, Tuesday.

Navratilova said there would be no surprises with Sukova, who beat her on grass at Eastbourne in June.

"I would rather play her on this {DecoTurf II hardcourt} than grass," Navratilova said Wednesday following her 7-5, 6-3 quarterfinal victory over Sabatini. "She is not as dangerous {on hardcourt}. Because she is so big {6 feet 2}, it is hard to pass her {on grass}. On this surface you can do that a little bit better. I have to really work on my passing shots because I know she will be charging the net on everything."

But attention today was focused on the Graf-McNeil match, featuring the top-ranked player in the world against The Woman Who Stopped Chrissie.

"To beat Graf, you have to be very aggressive, because she's aggressive," McNeil said. "You have to counteract that by being even more aggressive."

McNeil, the 11th seed, used that strategy in her 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Chris Evert in the quarterfinals. She came to the net following almost every Evert serve in the second and third sets, something she said she would not be able to do against Graf because of Graf's power.

But the crowding strategy is one that Pam Shriver, who lost to Graf, 6-4, 6-3, Wednesday, said more women should try against Graf.

"For two years {Graf has} been dictating play on the court. We're all stupid. You've gotta assert yourself during the points and during the breaks. You just can't let someone steamroll," Shriver said.

"It's a real good matchup because I'm coming in and she's possibly creating passing shots," McNeil said. "I'm sure she'll come in sometimes but her game is pretty much on the base line. But it's an aggressive base-liner, which makes it interesting."

Graf declined to talk with the media following today's doubles match, citing a cold.

"I hope she {McNeil} will go out there with an attitude of everything to gain and nothing to lose," said one of McNeil's coaches, John Wilkerson. "She has the capacity. It's my job to motivate her. The pressure's on me, really."

Of course, the pressure is on McNeil, who said she would try to keep Graf off balance and play away from Graf's forehand. Graf has not dropped a set in her five matches here, but McNeil insisted she would not be cowed by Graf's French Open win, her 55-1 match record this year and her top-seed status here.

"It's great for her but it's not intimidating for me. I thought I had a pretty good year and indoor season," McNeil said.

Graf has a bit of an Open hump to get over. She's reached the semifinals the last two years, only to be beaten twice by Navratilova. Last year, Graf had two match points before ultimately losing.

With such high stakes, Wilkerson acknowledged the special pressure on McNeil, who is the first black woman to advance this far since Althea Gibson won her second straight U.S. Open championship in 1958.

"I think that would be hard on anyone in her position, being in the semifinals for the first time, being a minority," he said. "She must say 'I want this title, I want this match.' "

McNeil has played Graf once, in the Virginia Slims championships last November. She extended Graf to three sets before losing.

McNeil's rise at the Open is the realization of the talent Wilkerson said was in her all along.

"Zina {Garrison, whom Wilkerson also coaches} always was the better player, but not by much. Everyone projected that Lori would be a late bloomer," Wilkerson said. "She had all the talent . . . but she wasn't using it then."

Now, McNeil has brought her talents to the Stadium Court, where she first got a taste of the Open on television, watching Shriver make the finals in 1978.

"I was about 14 when {Shriver} was 16," McNeil said, "and I got the feeling like, maybe when you're 16 you can be out there, too."