At first, it may appear--once again--that suspense will be on hold at this week's Virginia Slims Championship in New York, where the top 16 point winners will be playing. Whether Steffi Graf wins her first Slims year-end title or not, it won't affect her No. 1 ranking on the Women's International Tennis Assn.'s computer.
On the basis of her consistent performance this year, which includes 10 tournament victories, Graf has already wrapped up the No. 1 ranking in 1987. No matter what happens, a victory by Martina Navratilova in the final or a loss by Graf in the first round, the longtime Navratilova-Chris Evert stranglehold on No. 1 will have ended.
At least according to the unbending logic of the computer.
Navratilova, however, started to make her own argument, persuasively, at the U.S. Open. She defeated Graf in straight sets for her second consecutive Open title. It was Navratilova's second Grand Slam title this year, the first having been at Wimbledon with another straight-set win over Graf in the final.
This is where the intangibles, the ifs come into play. If Navratilova were to win her fifth Slims title this week, it would certainly provide a strong closing argument for her case. And if Navratilova defeated Graf, that would give her a 3-2 edge in their head-to-head meetings in 1987.
Then, the argument swings to one of quality vs. quantity.
Graf has the quantity, seven more tournament victories than Navratilova. But Navratilova has the quality, the biggest crowns of the year, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.
It certainly would be hard for the tennis magazines and experts not to pick Navratilova No. 1 if she wins this Slims title.
Navratilova's route to the final would appear easier as No. 4 Pam Shriver, No. 6 Gabriela Sabatini and No. 8 Manuela Maleeva are in her half of the draw. Navratilova will play unseeded Catarina Lindqvist Tuesday, then Graf will play unseeded Zina Garrison in the first round Wednesday. The seeded players in Graf's half of the draw are No. 3 Evert, No. 5 Hana Mandlikova and No. 7 Helena Sukova.
Thus, the race for No. 1--excluding the computer--is simple. If Navratilova wins, she's No. 1. If Graf does, the 18-year-old from West Germany is No. 1.
This year's Paris Open recently made news by becoming the first week-long Grand Prix event to conduct random tests for drugs. Americans Tim Mayotte and Brad Gilbert, France's Henri Leconte and Michiel Schapers of the Netherlands--the four semifinalists--all agreed to submit to the testing at the behest of the French Ministry of Youth and Sport.
The move was made because of recent incidents within the French sports world as several athletes there have tested positive for steroids and other illegal substances.
In Paris, however, the decision to submit to the testing was left to the individual player.
Although Gilbert, who reached the singles final, agreed to the test, he did it under protest.
"It's an attack on my personal liberty," he told the French sports daily L'Equipe. "It stinks. Why not control the world?"
It didn't take long for Stanford--which missed out on an invitation to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s men's team tournament last spring--to regain the No. 1 spot in college tennis. The Cardinal tied for first place with defending NCAA champion Georgia in the 1988 preseason rankings released by the Intercollegiate Tennis Coaches Assn. (ITCA).
Once again, California's dominance was reflected in the top 20, which included USC, No. 3; Pepperdine, tied for No. 4; UCLA, No. 6; UC Irvine, No. 11; California, No. 13, and Cal State Long Beach, No. 19.
USC senior Scott Melville of San Marino, who won the recent Volvo-Collegiate tournament at UCLA, is the No. 1-ranked singles player in the country, and Pepperdine's Andrew Sznajder is No. 2. Stanford freshman David Wheaton, runner-up to Melville at UCLA, is No. 3. Other players in the top 15 include Mark Kaplan of UC Irvine, No. 7; Patrick McEnroe of Stanford, No. 12, and Greg Failla of Cal State Long Beach, No. 13.
In the women's preseason rankings, two-time defending NCAA champion Stanford, which has been helped by three highly regarded recruits, is ranked first. Although Standford lost NCAA singles champion Patty Fendick and her doubles partner, Stephanie Savides, the Cardinal has NCAA semifinalist Lisa Green as the top returning player. And standout junior players Tami and Teri Whitlinger and Sandra Birch are expected to lead Stanford to its third straight team title in May.
Anne Grousbeck of Texas is the top-ranked singles player in the preseason poll. Four players from California are in the top 10: Green, No. 7; USC's Stephanie Harges, No. 8; Joni Urban of UCLA, No. 9, and Cal's Karen Shin, No. 10.
Eliot Teltscher of Palos Verdes was scheduled to play 16-year-old Pete Sampras of Palos Verdes in the undercard match in the Michelin Challenge Series at the Forum on Thursday, but he withdrew last week because of a shoulder injury. Teltscher's place will be taken by 1986 NCAA champion Dan Goldie. Australian Open champion Stefan Edberg is still scheduled to play top-ranked Ivan Lendl in the featured match.
Today is the final of the Rolex-ITCA Southern California men's collegiate tournament at UC Irvine. In last year's final, Mark Kaplan of Irvine defeated UC Santa Barbara's Kip Brady. Kaplan won't be able to defend his title, since he is academically ineligible this fall. Brady lost in the first round Thursday. . . . Gil and Mike Howard of Daly City, Calif., are attempting to become the first team to win U.S. father-son doubles titles on all four surfaces--clay, grass, hard courts and indoor--in one year.