Dear Steffi Graf,

Top seed Martina Navratilova left you a calling card in the finals of the $300,000 Virginia Slims of Washington yesterday at Patriot Center. She dominated second-seeded Pam Shriver for the second time in three Sundays, winning, 6-0, 6-2, in 55 minutes.

In winning her third tournament in three weeks, and for the ninth time here in her career, Navratilova was unstoppable. She whistled passing shots off both her forehand and backhand past Shriver. She sliced away, she attacked Shriver's second serve.

"That's about as well as I've ever played," Navratilova said. "I don't think I've ever won three finals in a row {at Dallas, Oakland and here, losing two sets out of 32} that decisively, even in my heyday, in '84 or '85."

This tournament had absolutely no surprises, except the small crowds which came out for the afternoon matches. Yesterday, though, there were 8,500 at Patriot Center. Only one match involving a seeded player went three sets, only three matches overall.

But back to yesterday, Steffi. You might be interested in hearing that Shriver, who teamed with Navratilova later to capture the doubles title, thinks that this is the best sustained period of dominance from Navratilova ever. And that your number one ranking in the world will be seriously challenged this year.

"She's playing the ball so crisply," Shriver said. "I tried to serve differently, but I didn't serve effectively at all. My first serve percentage was way down. But I had a little different game plan in mind. I had a lefty come out and serve to me last night, and again this morning. And she just isn't missing anything right now. She's hitting the ball so hard and away."

This week, the closest Navratilova came to dropping a set was when she lost four games each to Gigi Fernandez and Hana Mandlikova in the semifinals. Last year, Navratilova's knees were bothering her, and she went through a bunch of coaches and didn't have the total concentration she once did.

Now she's free of pain, and Tim Gullikson is her lone coach. And he's worked her back into a frenzy.

"I knew that I had to make some changes," she said. "I knew that I had to make some adjustments, that I couldn't keep going the way I did. So I did. I've got an excellent coach who's really helped me out a lot. He has some good ideas on tactics. Even as little as he's seen these women play, he's still given me some ideas on how to play them."

The match was over in about the time it takes to watch a situation comedy -- 26 minutes. That was the length of the first set, when Navratilova broke Shriver in the first game, held, then broke her again with a backhand passer, a backhand crosscourt and a forehand passer.

After holding serve easily, Shriver double faulted three times in the fifth game, twice from deuce, to fall behind, 5-0. Navratilova closed out the set with an ace down the middle.

Shriver took a 2-0 lead in the second set, breaking Navratilova with a backhand passer (one of the few she had all day). On her serve in game three, Shriver quickly jumped ahead, 40-0, and it looked like she might be able to win the set.

But Shriver double faulted again for 40-15. On a second serve, Navratilova cracked a backhand crosscourt winner for 40-30. And Shriver netted a half volley for deuce. But Shriver got the advantage by putting away a short lob, then banged a serve right down the middle. Against anyone else in the world, Shriver would have had the game and a 3-0 lead.

But Navratilova stretched out to nail a return past Shriver.

"I thought she can't go back to my forehand volley," Shriver said. "And she did. And only she can do that. She's the only woman strong enough to take my best serve down the center, on a full stretch dive, and pull it back crosscourt. That was my chance."

Back at deuce, Navratilova hit a second ball at Shriver's feet, and Shriver double faulted again for 2-1. Navratilova held at love, then broke Shriver after being down 30-love. Another game held at love made it 4-2 Navratilova, just that quick. The last break came on another Shriver double fault, a topspin forehand crosscourt, and a backhand by Shriver that went well out.

Then your name came up, Steffi.

"I don't think she could challenge Graf in a full year playing the way she did last year," Shriver said. "Now, I think she can challenge and regain her ranking if she maintains this level. But maintaining levels is not an easy thing to do, particularily when you've been playing a very, very long time."

"I think my knee will get better yet," Navratilova said. "It still hurts. It gets stiff . . . but it doesn't bother me during matches, which is fantastic. As long as my knees hold out, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't be playing the way I am now, because my work ethic is really good. Tim has helped me there."

And, Steffi, the ethic hasn't changed, even though Navratilova is number two.

"Now it's different," she said, "Because I'm in a place where I haven't been for a while. So it's a little easier, because I have somebody to look up to, to shoot for. For five years, there I was, and everybody was shooting for me, and the only loss I had was a bad loss. Now, that pressure is on Steffi, so I have somebody I can gun for."

It should make playing tennis in Paris interesting. See you at the French.


Martina Navratilova (1), Fort Worth, def. Pam Shriver (2), Lutherville, Md., 6-0, 6-2. DOUBLES FINAL

Navratilova-Shriver (1) def. Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina-Helena Sukova, Czechoslovakia (2), 6-3, 6-4.