WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND, JULY 6 -- While Martina Navratilova and Zina Garrison fretted about what to wear, Steffi Graf tried to comprehend she is out of Wimbledon. With Graf's loss the women's final became a no-lose proposition, an emotional meeting between similarly clad friends in which history will be made either way.
Navratilova can lay her hands on a record ninth singles title that would break her tie with Helen Wills Moody and give her a lasting contentment. "I'll just try not to hyperventilate when I get out there," she said. Garrison could become the second black woman to win a Wimbledon title, Althea Gibson claiming two in 1957-58. Both probably will cry, a couple of teary-eyed veterans who have played 28 times.
No. 2 Navratilova has won 27 of those meetings and must be regarded as an overwhelming favorite. But No. 5 Garrison is experiencing the best tennis of her previously halting career, laying to rest her reputation as unsteady under pressure and questionable in big matches. This week she merely defeated No. 3 Monica Seles in the quarterfinals, then shocked No. 1 Graf in the semifinals by 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
"One more match and it would be a dream come true," she said.
The first issue to be settled is who will wear what. Navratilova has a clothing line, and Garrison has adopted the attire. They have been identical in predominant white with Wimbledon-colored purple and green stripes. No one is quite sure how Garrison will be adorned Saturday, but it's unlikely she and Navratilova will dress alike. Garrison has taken her laundry to Navratilova's rented house adjoining the grounds, her husband, Willard Jackson, picking it up in the afternoons.
"Maybe I'll hide her clothes," Navratilova said. "Or shrink them."
Their final will be no great tactical duel, simply a matter of whose serve-and-volley game is more deadly. Navratilova built a 27-1 record over Garrison largely because they play the same style, only she does it better. That caused Graf to predict Garrison would have no chance Saturday, but then nobody thought the 26-year-old from Houston would have a chance against Seles or Graf.
"I've beaten her once, and I've played her close in a lot of situations," Garrison said. "You get to a final like this on grass and anything can happen."
They are the quickest players on tour save for sprinter-like Graf. Garrison is somewhat awkward and unorthodox, with flat slices that burrow into the ground. Navratilova's style is cleaner and less prone to errors, and she has not lost a set in the tournament.
She has faced just eight break points in six matches, dropping her serve five times. Garrison has faced 38 break points, but made courageous saves, broken just 10 times. Interestingly enough, Garrison has served more aces, 13 to 11.
"Serve and volley, that's what grass-court tennis is all about, and that's what it's going to be on Saturday," Navratilova said. "It's going to be a footrace to the net, and whoever does it better will win."
Garrison did it better than Graf, and thus the West German was knocked out in the semifinals of a major championship for the first time since 1986. That ruined a widely expected Graf-Navratilova final. Graf said she would not be present Saturday, and reacted testily when it was suggested an idle weekend might be an unfamiliar sensation.
"I'm 21 years old," she said. "For 18 years before I was not playing in a final on Saturday, so I think I am used to it."
But observers are not used to seeing this Graf. She has been beaten in her last three tournaments, twice by 16-year-old Seles, including a straight-set loss in the French Open final. Her strokes are lacking their usual force, and there is something predictable about them. Garrison anticipated them perfectly, time and again picking off volleys.
Graf denies her physical and emotional health -- a sinus problem and a tabloid controversy concerning her family -- has had an effect. She simply may be experiencing the inevitable fraying of a champion who has been No. 1 for three years. Certainly, to write her off would be foolish.
"It's too quick," Garrison said. "She's still a champion."
Graf's doubles partner, Gabriela Sabatini, lost to Navratilova in the other semifinal, 6-3, 6-4. Sabatini, 20, also has gone through a loss of confidence, just now recovering, and suggested Graf's resilience should not be underestimated.
"It's just one match," she said. "It's not the end."
Such a huge opportunity sent adrenaline through the veins of Navratilova and Garrison. Their nerve may be as much of a question as their games. Garrison is in her first Grand Slam final, a movement upward she had long been trying to achieve, running eight miles a day and laboring under the tutelage of veteran coach Sherwood Stewart.
Just five weeks ago she was depressed and doubting herself after losing to Wiltrud Probst in the first round of the French after holding match point. It is an inexplicable facet of Garrison's character that she can lose to somebody ranked No. 42 and weeks later upset Graf.
"That's a question I'm still trying to deal with myself," Garrison said.
Navratilova has worked for two years in pursuit of a ninth Wimbledon title, a goal that has renewed her after a bout with staleness and thoughts of retirement. After several weeks of relentless practice with coaches Craig Karden and Billie Jean King, the approach of the final has made her somewhat tremulous, and she is taking nothing for granted. Garrison's one upset of Navratilova was an important one, in the quarterfinals of the 1988 U.S. Open, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5.
"I'm sweating already thinking about it," Navratilova said. "I've done all the work; there's nothing I can do now. I'm here. Either I execute and win it, or Zina wins."