In women’s tennis, some things are guaranteed. They are accepted as such indisputable truths that, when mentioned, rows of heads nod in agreement.
--Steffi Graf hitting a forehand winner from anywhere.
--Gabriela Sabatini hitting a looping forehand shot with topspin at the baseline.
--Chris Evert winning at match point.
But truth took a beating here Wednesday under a relentless hot sun at Hyatt Grand Champions, where Evert had match point against Hana Mandlikova, then wound up losing in the second round of the Virginia Slims of Indian Wells, 3-6, 7-6, 6-0.
For Evert, it was like discovering that everything she knew was wrong. The last time Evert held match point and lost? Try 1975.
Evert reacted typically. “I could kick myself,” she said.
Mandlikova had already managed to do that, putting together one of her patented performances--alternating currents of brilliance and boo-boos.
There was no doubt that Evert, who had a first-round bye, had drawn a difficult opponent for her first match. There was also no doubt that Evert would win when she was at match point, serving at 5-4 in the second set.
However, at 40-30, Evert committed the most costly of all her unforced errors by hitting a backhand wide. Mandlikova gained the advantage with a backhand volley winner, then broke serve on the next point when Evert missed yet again with her backhand.
Once they got to the tiebreaker, Mandlikova was in control. But she said she usually feels this way about tiebreakers.
“I feel I own them,” she said.
Evert could scarcely rent a point. Mandlikova took a 4-0 lead and coasted in, 7-2.
It got worse for Evert in the third set, which was littered with three more service breaks and two of her four foot faults.
So, after one match, the top-seeded player is no longer around. Evert took her defeat with grace, but she did not go quietly.
“This is one match I’ll think about for a while,” she said. “There aren’t many matches where I have match point and lose.
“Once (Mandlikova) was back in the match, she got confidence and played great. I really should never have let her back in the match.”
Evert, 34, was playing only her third match--her second tournament of the year, actually--since the Virginia Slims Championships last November. Evert thought her lack of match play had hurt her, perhaps as much as Mandlikova had.
“It’s my second tournament in three months and that was my choice,” Evert said. “I’m paying the consequences right now.”
Three years ago, a match between Evert and Mandlikova would have made a pretty good semifinal. Actually, three years ago it was exactly that. They met in the semifinals on the clay at the French Open and on the grass at Wimbledon.
But when they met on the hard court on a sunny Wednesday, they were playing only a second-round match, the result of a draw that paired the top-seeded Evert against the unseeded Mandlikova.
“Playing me in the second round is very, very tough,” said a modest Mandlikova, who extended her record in three-set matches this year to 9-0.
Now five tournaments into her comeback after a six-month absence from the tour, Mandlikova’s ranking of No. 51 could improve to No. 20 or better if she wins the tournament.
Mike Estep, Mandlikova’s coach, said her ranking will improve soon, regardless. “But she’s close to a top-10 player right now,” he said.
Evert said that Mandlikova looks pretty much the same to her, comeback or not, then gave Mandlikova sort of a two-fisted backhand compliment.
“I think she’s still the same player,” Evert said. “She still makes errors. She still gives opponents free points, but she can still look spectacular.”
Except for playing a tournament at Tokyo in the first week of February, Evert has spent most of her time at Aspen, Colo., with skier-husband Andy Mill, who is busy during winter.
“I know I’m not the greatest player after a layoff, but I should have won the match,” Evert said. “If you have match point, you should win it. It’s as simple as that.”
Tennis historians will note that the last time Chris Evert lost when she had match point was in the final of the 1975 Virginia Slims of Washington against Martina Navratilova. Oddly, it was match point for both players at 4-4 in the third-set tiebreaker. At that time, the nine-point tiebreakers did not have to be won by two points. . . . In Tuesday’s other match-point highlight, Gretchen Magers held match point against fourth-seeded Manuela Maleeva and wound up losing, 2-6, 7-5, 6-2. . . . Unseeded Terry Phelps upset fifth-seeded Lori McNeil, 6-1, 6-2. “If I had lost, no one would have thought much about it,” Phelps said. “But I just didn’t make any errors.” . . . Helena Sukova, seeded second, had no trouble defeating Brenda Schultz, 6-3, 6-4, in a match that was not the best of the day, but was tops among the tall set. Sukova is 6 feet 2 inches, Schultz 6-1.