Rarely has a tennis player ranked among the top five in the world had less chance of winning a match than Pam Shriver had yesterday.

Jimmy Swaggart has a better shot at being named minister of the year than Shriver had of beating Martina Navratilova in the Virginia Slims of Washington championship match.

Shriver is the fourth-ranked player in the world. This week, she passed Margaret Court to move into 10th place on the all-time list for matches won. She's 25 years old, in her prime. In four tournaments this year, Shriver has reached the finals three times. This week, she beat the fifth-ranked and seventh-ranked players in the world in straight sets. Yesterday, against Navratilova, Shriver played okay. Certainly not near her best, but nothing to be ashamed of; could've beaten maybe 85 percent of them women in the top 50.

Shriver lost, 6-0, 6-2. It wasn't that close, trust me. This is what Shriver said about the match: "I got killed." Okay, so she understated things a little bit. The only way Shriver was going to win yesterday was if she had changed Navratilova's wake-up call, leaving Navratilova to get stuck in the massive traffic jam on Braddock Road so she had to forfeit.

Despite all this, Shriver has no reason to feel bad. Navratilova is so untouchably hot, so confident that she can do absolutely anything, she ought to tie on a pair of skates and go looking for Katarina Witt.

It could have been any woman on the pro tennis tour losing to Navratilova yesterday, but it was Shriver's misfortune to be on the other side this time. Sure, Shriver almost always loses to Navratilova. In fact, Shriver has lost 23 straight encounters with her doubles partner, 33 of 36 since the two first met nearly 10 years ago. But the matches are also almost always close; the previous five had been decided in either a third-set or second-set tie breaker.

Not this time. "It was a pretty even match," Shriver quipped. "I held serve once and broke once."

After Navratilova won the first set, 6-0, Shriver looked across the net and said, "That was warm-ups, right? Okay, I'm ready now."

Shriver, always combative and competitive, took a 2-0 lead that lasted for about two minutes. "In case any of you went to the rest room or to get a drink, I had a break and was up, 2-0. For those of you who missed my little rally, I'm sorry."

Fortunately for Shriver, she didn't lose her sense of humor. "I wish I could sit here and explain what it's like to play her when she's like this," Shriver said to the crowd at Patriot Center. "Congratulations on picking back up again, you rat."

Navratilova was the one who should have apologized for being a less-than-gracious visitor, and she did. She came into Shriver's back yard (Shriver grew up in Lutherville, Md., and resides in Baltimore) and whacked her. At least twice, on Shriver's serve, Navratilova hit three winners in a single game. Off first serves.

The point is that women's tennis is about to be held hostage by Navratilova. Again. And there's nothing anybody, not Chris Evert, Pam Shriver, Steffi Graf or anybody else can do to top it or even slow it down.

Having lost so many close, emotional matches to Navratilova -- nine of them in the finals -- Shriver and everybody else would have to hope that at 31 years old, in her 16th year on the circuit, Navratilova would be slowing down. At least a little.

Instead, Navratilova is planning on overthrowing Graf, the current No. 1, before the end of the year. The stalk is on and it was too bad that Shriver had to be the first victim. Shriver had a left-hander (like Navratilova) hit serves to her Saturday evening and yesterday morning. Shriver hit hard serves to the backhand side that most players struggle to return at all. Navratilova nailed winners.

"I don't want to see anybody playing that good," Shriver said. "This is the way I felt three or four years ago when I wasn't as good {as she is now}. Martina is on a streak where she's just . . . woooo."

That's right, she's too good for words right now.

And the downright frightening thing, if you're a woman on the tour, is that Navratilova said she's going to get better. "I can hit the ball harder," she said. Harder than what?

Another scary thing is that Navratilova fully expected this second wind and doesn't understand why others didn't expect it, too. "I was surprised I was being written off so quickly," she said, referring to some reports that claimed her days of yore were about done. "I am surprised I regained my game so quickly. That's the only thing that surprised me."

Navratilova should understand that the rest of us are surprised, shocked even. We aren't used to athletes slipping a little (if you can call winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open "slipping") then deciding at 31 years of age to resume whipping up on folks half her age.

Steffi Graf, your days are numbered. Asked whether she was planning a second heyday, Navratilova said, "You bet."

Asked how long it might take to take back No. 1 if she keeps playing like this, Navratilova said, "It doesn't matter if it's April or if it's November. But if I can keep playing like this it will be this year. I'm up to the challenge."