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No Martina, No Chris--No Interest?

In the Hewlett Packard/Women’s Tennis Assn. Computer Singles Rankings as of 23 Jul 85, to quote the computer printout precisely, the No. 1 player in the world is Evert Lloyd Chris. No. 2 is Navratilova Martina.

No. 22 is Louie Peanut, No. 42 is Smylie Elizabeth, No. 62 is Schropp Myriam, No. 82 is Gerken Barbara, and No. 102 is Gildemeister Laura.

Some of these women are in the vicinity this week, playing in Slims Virginia.

The problem with women’s tennis, of course, is No. 1 and No. 2. If Lloyd or Navratilova are entered in a tournament, no one else has much chance of winning. If Chris and Martina do not enter the tournament, no one much cares who wins.

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The players care, though. Mandlikova Hana, who is ranked No. 3, certainly cares. So does Shriver Pam, who is No. 4.

Both are playing in the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles, which is continuing all week long at the Manhattan Country Club in Manhattan Beach.

Friends and relatives of the players also care who wins, as do tournament organizers, coaches, sponsors, sneaker makers and particularly devoted followers of women’s tennis. And more people should care, because the tennis being played is first-rate, and the effort being put forth is worth watching.

You go out there and watch these women play, some of them with rackets the size of guitars, and you go home thinking that you have just seen some fine tennis.

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But unless you have a personal or vested interest, you are sadly indifferent as to who wins. You do not stay awake nights wondering how the Virginia Slims tournament is going to turn out. You do not check with Jimmy the Greek for odds on Zina Garrison vs. Rene Uys. You do not sit in saloons arguing with bartenders over who’s got the better backhand, Eva Pfaff or Bettina Bunge.

In person, you might root for an underdog. Or you might root for the popular and effervescent Shriver. Or for the intense and physically gifted Mandlikova. Some of the people who came to Tuesday’s matinee matches came to root for Hu Na, the nice young woman who defected from China. She, by the way, wants it known that she wants to be known as Na in singular references, not as Hu.

Put that in your Packard Hewlett computer and store it.

What women’s tennis needs is more stars. More leading women. More heroines.

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If No. 1 and No. 2 suddenly retired, it would be good for the sport because it would return suspense to the outcome, but it would be bad because spectator interest would probably wither.

There has been such a rush to develop new stars that athletes such as Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger were pushed onto center court practically in their adolescence. Neither is seen much anymore--Austin because of injuries, Jaeger because of first-degree burnout--but if it seems as though they have been around forever, Austin has not yet had her 23rd birthday, and Jaeger has just turned 20.

Tennis misses them. They kept No. 1 and No. 2 on their toes. New heroines must be found to come along and replace them.

Maybe even a villainess would do. Maybe women’s tennis needs a whiner, a screamer, a real rhymes-with-witch type of player to rival certain male players whose reputations precede them.

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At the very least, women’s tennis could use somebody colorful.

Kate Gompert is probably too nice a person to become somebody you would like to boo, but she sure is fun to watch. If every player on the tour were as demonstrative as she is, there would have to be public-address announcements asking the players to settle down so the spectators could concentrate.

Gompert, 22, is a tall lefty from Stanford who lives in New Mexico. She is No. 111 on the computer.

Tuesday, her job was to play Claudia Kohde-Kilsch of West Germany, who is No. 8. A couple of hundred people formed a gallery around center court to watch.

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Gompert kept whacking herself on the hip for incentive. She also kept talking to herself, at first just moving her lips, then talking out loud, then finally talking very loud.

She hit one too long and shouted. She hit the next one long and disgustedly let her racket drop to the ground in front of her. Then she tried a lob that went long. “What am I doing?” Gompert called out.

It continued for the rest of the match:

--"How can you be out in front of something like that?”

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--"You’re rushing everything!”

--"You don’t have a plan! You’re just hitting!”

She hit one out of bounds, took a second ball and pounded it hard to the court, making it bounce 20 feet high. She lost a point with another bad shot, looked up and shouted: “Sick!”

She couldn’t reach a drop shot in time, so she swatted the net post instead, startling a ball boy. Later, forced to wait a few seconds for the ball boy to retrieve a ball, she said: “Come on!” When the ball boy was slow picking up another ball, she rolled her eyes.

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As the match, which she lost, neared the end, Gompert hit one too low, sat down on the court and hollered: “How many times can I hit the top of the net? It’s not my day!”

Shake it off, Gompert Kate. Even Evert Lloyd Chris and Navratilova Martina have had days like this.


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