Manhattan Beach Tennis : Hakami Arrives in Time to Lose to Navratilova

Special to The Times

Surely, while Elly Hakami was sitting in her car in the midst of yet another untimely traffic jam on the San Diego Freeway Friday, she must have started thinking about her impending fate.

No, not worrying about playing Martina Navratilova, the world's No. 1, for the first time. She looked forward to that prospect. Rather, Hakami's thoughts turned to how she would handle potential humiliation.

For instance:

--The headlines. Hakami Arrives Late For Match With Navratilova, Defaulted From Tournament.

--The television reports. Well, here we are at the Manhattan Country Club for the quarterfinals of the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles. And we're still waiting for Elly Hakami to show up.

As the car inched toward Manhattan Beach, Hakami wasn't worrying about getting to Navratilova's serve. Getting to the match was the concern.

"I was almost in tears," she said. "I didn't know what to do."

Hakami is staying in Irvine, where it was cloudy and raining lightly Friday morning. As a result, she felt the match against Navratilova might be delayed.

But . . .

"It takes about 50 minutes to get to the club and it was raining when we left, so we kind of took our time," Hakami said. "But we kept driving and it (the weather) started getting better and better. Then, the sun came out."

Hakami eventually arrived at the club a half an hour before the match was to start. The next problem was trying to find someone to hit with. Again, no luck.

"I finally had to hit with my dad," Hakami said, shaking her head. "I couldn't find anyone to hit with. Not a good way to warm up when you're going to play against Martina."

Oddly enough, as things worked out, the real difficulty of the day eneded when Hakami finally took the court.

She played a strong first set against Navratilova, staying even until 3-3. She then squandered two chances to break Navratilova in the seventh game. In the next game, she blew an easy overhead and doublefaulted to lose her serve, giving Navrativloa a 5-3 lead.

But Navratilova, the defending champion, played her strongest match of the week so far and had little problem after that, defeating Hakami, 6-3, 6-2.

"She's a very good player," Navratilova said. "She seems to be very bright and she's a lot better all-court player than I thought she would be. I thought she served well and she comes out tough."

Said Hakami: "The match wasn't above (my capablities). I could have given her a better match. It was the first time I played against her and it was a little difficult."

Like Hakami, Gabriela Sabatini recorded a career first on Friday in another quarterfinal match. After six attempts, the 17-year-old finally broke through against fourth-seeded Hana Mandlkiova, winning, 7-6, 2-6, 7-5.

Although her head-to-head record against Mandlikova isn't as large a deficit as the one Steffi Graf holds over her, Sabatini, nevertheless, hadn't sounded confident about her chances.

"She wins," Sabatini said. "Always."

The difference this time was Sabatini's shotmaking at the net. She won the first set by forcing the play and coming in as often as possible. In the second, Sabatini stayed in the backcourt and subsquently, lost it quickly. Finally, she returned to form and started coming in again.

In the other two quarterfinal matches, second-seeded Graf defeated Bettina Bunge, 6-1, 6-1, and third-seeded Chris Evert beat No. 8 Lori McNeil, 6-1, 7-5. Graf plays Sabatini in the first semifinal today, followed by Evert and Navratilova.

"I played very well in the second set," Evert said of her match against McNeil. "She came up with some sizzling shots in the second set. She had nothing to lose and went for the winners and made them. But when it counted, I came through in the second set."

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